Speakers at the University of Georgia's Unwired 2005 Conference predicted Tuesday that U.S. agriculture is on the verge of a technological revolution that will allow farmers to complete many of their chores from laptop computers in their homes or tractors.
"Wireless technology is not the technology of the future, it is the technology of the present," said David Bridges, assistant dean of the University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "If we don't bring technology to rural areas, they won't advance."
The two-day conference focused on the use of wireless technology to improve farm efficiency and how high-speed wireless connectivity can enhance the lives of rural residents, most of whom are limited to slow-speed dial-up internet connections.
One of the speakers, Wade Mitchell, 59, connected to his farm in Genesco Township, Iowa, from the conference room in south Georgia and showed how he monitors environmental conditions in his grain bins wirelessly through the internet.
He and his son, Clay, have one of the nation's most technology advanced family farms. Their tractors, sprayers and harvesters steer themselves using Global Positioning Satellite signals, freeing the Wades to work at laptop computers while the equipment travels through the fields.
From their mobile offices, they can monitor machinery, check e-mail and commodity prices, read the latest news and even order parts.
"By the time I get to the dealer, they're on the counter," Wade said of his parts delivery.
Besides improving farm efficiency, Wade believe wireless connectivity will have an added benefit for the environment by helping farmers minimize pesticide applications by spraying chemicals more precisely.
John Helm, director of field services for Vivato, a Spokane, Wash., company that makes high-powered wireless equipment, said wireless is coming to farms and rural areas because "we all like the convenience of our mobility."
His company has helped utilities and communities set up wireless networks to improve efficiency, to promote economic development and to enhance the quality of life.
"It's an amenity that's required," he said. "In our culture, we realize how much more we can do when we're connected."
The conference, which has attracted about 100 wireless experts from around the nation, covers such subjects as funding large-scale networks, wireless sensors and controls for the home and the farm and even how to set up wireless networks.
Craig Kvien, who directs a high-tech University of Georgia agricultural research lab in Tifton, said farmers strapped with significantly higher fuel bills could benefit by controlling some of their farm work through wireless networks.
"With the cost of fuel, a little wireless internet can save a lot of money, natural resources and people's time," he said. "Ten years ago you would never have thought of a farmer sitting in a tractor and doing these things."