New research project will study how technology can help field scouting

In Growing Georgia

By Allison Floyd

Imagine if you could simply look at a pest in the field to take a photograph of it? What if in the same glance you could draw on the knowledge of agronomists and entomologists around the globe to identify the pest and learn how to fight it?

Those scenarios may not be as far out as they sound.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded a grant to a company called TekWear, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia to evaluate the effectiveness of wireless, web-connected technologies (headsets that look like eyeglasses) to monitor and grow specialty crops such as pecans.

The yearlong research project will involve Peter Presti with the Interactive Media Technology Center at Georgia Tech; UGA pecan expert Lenny Wells, and Bruce Rasa, CEO and founder of TekWear.

Rasa, a farm technology consultant and the fifth generation of a Missouri farm family, is one of the people Google commissioned last year to test out Google Glass, – a headset that’s been called “a smartphone for your face.” Now, he will help evaluate how web-connected technologies like Glass can be used by farmers and crop consultants to improve production of important specialty crops, such as pecans. With nearly 100 million bushels produced each year, Georgia is the No. 1 pecan-producing state, and the crop generates more than $250 million in revenue.

“Our goal is to see how producers can most effectively utilize hands-free wearable devices such as Google Glass, as well as smartphones, unmanned aerial systems (drones) and other Internet-enabled technologies to monitor for pests, scout their fields and better manage their crops,” Rasa said. “Because pecans are an economically important crop in Georgia and other areas of the U.S., it makes sense to evaluate the use of these technologies on pecans, then see how we can apply them to other high-value and field crops in the future.”

By looking at how different technologies can be used on the farm, the research team hopes the information will help farmers scout for insects, disease and other pests; make more precise and timely applications of crop inputs; and provide additional agronomic information that results in significant economic and environmental benefits, said Wells.

“For the first time, we are connecting together many of the advanced mobile and wearable technologies that are currently available to modern agriculture and putting them into practical use on large-scale farming operations,” Wells said. “From wireless-connected insect traps in the field, to unmanned aerial systems to wearable devices, we’ll be able to objectively evaluate how to make these smart technologies easier to use by farmers of different ages and skill levels to produce food more efficiently, economically and responsibly.”

The project overview will be shared at the Georgia Pecan Growers annual meeting next spring. The summary findings will be published in September 2015 by Georgia Tech.

While this is the most extensive research into how Glass and other hands-free, web-connected devices could assist farmers, it’s not the first look into the possibilities. With Rasa’s help, two researchers at Auburn University considered the potential last year and judged that the device could one day help row-crop farmers operate more efficiently and profitably.

Greg Pate and John Fulton studied Glass in cotton fields at Auburn’s E.V. Smith Research Center. Pate is director of E.V. Smith, located off I-65 between Montgomery and Auburn, and Fulton is Extension specialist and associate professor of biosystems engineering at Auburn.

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