Campus: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo -- February 21, 2001

Donation to Cal Poly College of Agriculture Sends GPS Statewide

With a donation by Magellan Corp. of portable Global Positioning System (GPS) field monitors valued at $135,000, the College of Agriculture's Bioresource and Agricultural Engineering Department can now share GPS and "precision agriculture" information and equipment with community college teachers statewide.

The donation of the 18 AgNavigator monitors, together with a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant and an Agricultural Research Initiative (ARI) grant from the state, will eventually allow Cal Poly to make the units available to classrooms nationwide.

"This equipment donation allows us to expand the Precision Agriculture program we have been working on -- Internet-based materials and curriculum and a video -- to become more hands-on," according to Bioresource and Agricultural Engineering Professor Rollin Strohman, who is leading the Precision Ag program. "'Hands-on' is definitely more exciting and interesting to the students.

"With the USDA and ARI grants, we were able to prepare materials to 'teach the teachers' about the hardware via the Internet and short courses," Strohman said. "Now, with the Magellan donation, we have hardware that can actually go out to them in their classroom."

Instructors in community colleges and some high schools take short courses at Cal Poly that teach Precision Agriculture, including the use of GPS and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). As environmental concerns grow, understanding and utilizing this equipment will become even more important and prevalent, Strohman said.

"With Precision Ag and a GPS system," he said, "growers create an exact map of what's done in the field. This allows proactive responsiveness that is unmatched."

GPS works on the principle of triangulation. A GPS receiver calculates its position by determining the distance to three or more satellites. This allows the mapping of any field, which in turn allows more precise agricultural methods.

"Through our faculty's initiative, we are bringing state-of-the-art technology to our own students," College of Agriculture Dean Joseph J. Jen said, "and to other instructors statewide. Any school or teacher interested in Precision Ag is welcome to participate in our programs."

Strohman said, "Reaching more schools and getting more students excited about Precision Agriculture is what's really terrific. With equipment and labs devoted to GPS and GIS, we not only provide our students with a 'learn-by-doing' education, we give teachers what they need to teach."

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