Agricultural Research Service research leader Johnie N. Jenkins, at the agency's Genetics and Precision Agriculture Research Unit at Mississippi State, Miss., heads a team of ARS scientists developing a high-speed wireless networking system. It will allow farmers to download aerial images via the Internet onto their personal computers, laptops — or even better, their PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) — in a cost-effective and efficient way.

In the past, farmers could only see the results of these aerial photos if they were printed and hand delivered, because the digital files of the photographs were too large.

What used to take days can now be accomplished in just a matter of minutes — another important advancement in precision agriculture technology. By using their PDAs, farmers could go out onto their fields, download corresponding aerial images and use Global Positioning System coordinates to quickly locate problem areas. This would allow them to take care of whatever ails their crops within minutes after the aerial images were taken.

The wireless local area network can also be used to download application maps directly to tractors or other machinery, eliminating time-consuming steps and reducing the chance of human error.

For the past three years, Jenkins and ARS technician James McKinion have been evaluating the utility of this emerging farming tool.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research

agency.