PROGRESS: Internet farming? Could be

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ATHENS, Ga. – Farmers will soon be able to open gates, track livestock, steer tractors and control other farm jobs by computer.

Sound like something out of science fiction? One researcher says it’s not that outlandish.

Get onboard. As more rural areas gain high-speed Internet access, a farmer could do all those tasks and not even be on the farm, said Stuart Pocknee, a University of Georgia precision agriculture program coordinator.

“A farmer could be out of the state at a meeting or even on vacation and pull up his farm’s Web page and farm,” Pocknee said.

Technology in use. Internet farming seems a novel idea now. But it’s really not that far-fetched, Pocknee said.

Fast communication technology is already being used for many applications. Factory machinery can be accessed and controlled by a technology worker outside the factory.

A person can call home to start or stop appliances or air-conditioning system. A simple home security system can call for help when it senses someone breaking in.

Technology may never replace some farming work, he said. But the tractor made farming easier and more efficient than the mule-driven rigs of the early 1900s.

Modern communication technology could do the same in this century.

Going wireless. Wireless Internet communications have the greatest potential for on-farm use, he said. Wireless simply means there’s no physical connection between a sender and the receiver. They’re connected by radio waves.

The University of Georgia’s precision agriculture team has pilot wireless communication projects established on farms now. One allows a farmer to remotely monitor his vegetable packing shed operation. Another will allow a farmer to do the same with his irrigation system.

“Only a few researchers are looking at this technology right now for agricultural use,” Pocknee said. “We want to bring those researchers together with wireless industry technology people to learn more of the potential of cutting-edge tools and what agriculture needs to make them work.”

Obstacles. Wireless technology products of the past haven’t transferred well to farm use, he said. But newer products have greater potential. They’re more versatile, inexpensive and easier to use.

Many variables have to be overcome on a farm, such as trees, hills and extended distances. But it can be done, he said, if there is an interest within the wireless industry and agriculture.

“We just want to raise our hand, in a manner of speaking, and let them know we’re here and that potential exists,” Pocknee said.

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