Kyle Dean, Host: Back here on WTIF. It is 9:37, time for our UGA Tifton Farm Chat. And joining me in studio is Dr. Joe West. Joe, good morning to you. How are you?
Dr. Joe West, UGA Tifton Campus Assistant Dean: Good morning, Kyle. I'm doing great; good to be here.
Kyle Dean, Host: Good to have you here. And once again, you have brought us another behind the scenes type person at UGA Tifton. Not say that belittles what they do out there on the campus but there are very important roles out there that a lot of people just don't know about.
Dr. Joe West, UGA Tifton Campus Assistant Dean: Absolutely. Out at the station, we’ve got so many different things going on and a lot of the folks in the area know our scientists from doing educational programs or research. But, it takes a lot of different people to make that whole complex organization work. So, what you've let me do the last few weeks is bring some people down that really make that place work and introduce them to your audience. And so, today I've got with me Vicki Garrick. Vicki works in our NESPAL lab down there and she's very, very much a technology guru. I go to her whenever I've got a problem with my computer or anything else.
Kyle Dean, Host: What's your number so I can call you in case I have problems (laughter)? Vicki, it is good to have you here. Tell us a little bit about yourself. How long you've been at UGA Tifton and what exactly you do?
Vickie Garrick, UGA Tifton Campus IT Senior Manager: I've been at UGA for 15 years. I've always lived in South Georgia. I’ve always been around agriculture. So it is really a great advantage to be able to work there. My focus started off as I was computer support for 2 units and as I grew in the business, they recognized that we needed wireless out on the farm, so they started pulling me into farm research and that's what my focus is now, technology on the farm.
Kyle Dean, Host: Now you work within the NESPAL unit which is the National Environmentally Sound Production Agricultural Laboratory. Did you open up the building out there (laughing) when it was brand new?
Vicki Garrick, UGA Tifton Campus IT Senior Manager: I actually did (Dean: laughing) I actually set up the network in that building. I actually did.
Kyle Dean, Host: Tell us a little bit about how you guys are working to try to improve farm efficiency.
Vicki Garrick, UGA Tifton Campus IT Senior Manager: This started 20 plus years ago. The person I work under, Dr. Craig Kvien, he has been involved in Precision Ag for many years and also we've got a new project called the Future Farmstead trying to talk about energy efficient. All this is tied together through technology on the Tifton Campus. And what my focus is is how to take that technology and put it into the hands of our partners such as farmers, Extension agents, even some home users on small farms.
Kyle Dean, Host: What are some of those things you've been working on? What are some of the highlights that you can say, “Hey, we've kind of pioneered that.”
Vicki Garrick, UGA Tifton Campus IT Senior Manager: Over the years, through Precision Ag, they've come up with many things that is related back to technology such as they were one of the first groups to test out the auto steer where you can drive your tractor through GPS. They've tested out the VRI which is Variable Rate Irrigation system which all commercial companies have picked up and started selling these as products.
Through all this, one of the big focuses is having a network on your farm and that's where I step in – trying to get that network either through Wi-Fi or cellular over the farm. So while you are in your auto steer tractor, you can be a productive person – checking email, checking prices, checking cameras that you've got out on your farm – to be more efficient.
Kyle Dean, Host: I talked with Curt Lacy just the other day on our Market Monday. We were going over those numbers and really crunching those numbers and I asked him, “The farmer 50 - 60 years ago didn't have to worry about anything. He just got out there and did the best he could. Now, you really have to be a forward thinking businessman to run an operation or a farm.”
Vicki Garrick, UGA Tifton Campus IT Senior Manager: Yes, and that’s what we are working on – is to keep information at the tip of their fingers through technology. We are very focused right now on how to display that information such as tablets, smart phones, and like I said before, combining cellular with Wi-Fi over their farming area because most farms are not continuous farms, they are usually very dispersed. So using a combination of Wi-Fi that you have like in your house except expanding it over a farming area and then also combining cellular in there. Verizon sells these. They’re called mi-fi. And there are other brands. It doesn't have to be a mi-fi. It can be any of those that create a hot spot. A farmer can use that to connect back to his Wi-Fi network.
Kyle Dean, Host: That's what I have at my home is a mi-fi from Verizon. Just like that you can run 5 different computers from that one spot and it is a great thing. I imagine it becomes a difficult task when you have – say you’ve got 500 acres of land out there and you need be in some way mobile and have access to that . It's got to be a trick and that's where you guys come.
Vicki Garrick, UGA Tifton Campus IT Senior Manager: Yes, and one of the great tools that we're able to give farmers, it's off the shelf that they can set up and they are relatively easy is IP cameras. You see you want to go to the beach, you log into a webcam. Now we are looking at putting those more on farms so a farmer can log into their farming operation and view things – see if the harvest is going like it should while he is in one area and he can be in his tractor in another field harvesting.
Kyle Dean, Host: Great! A great way to communicate, to know what's going on. It's a great way to check on if you've got farm hands or workers or anybody like that (laughing), it's a great way to check on them as well (Garrick: yes) make sure they are doing what they need to be doing while the boss is away. Sometimes the cats and the mice will play.
Vicki Garrick, UGA Tifton Campus IT Senior Manager: Well also using it as a security system (Dean: that's right) you can also record those cameras and it could be a security feature for you too.
Kyle Dean, Host: What would you say the most delightful part of your job is? Maybe it's something you guys have accomplished that you can kind of hang you hat and say, “I was proud to be a part of that.” Any particular one come out in your mind?
Vicki Garrick, UGA Tifton Campus IT Senior Manager: So far up to date, I've helped a lot of farmers just be able to expand their networks from their local DSL out into their farm and they save money helping them figure out how to be more efficient and save money and that is just one of the things I like to do.
Kyle Dean, Host: Awesome. With communication and with all these technological advances, Dr. West, people like Vicki and her team and everybody out there, they need to be on top of these things to help the farmer be more efficient on the farm.
Dr. Joe West, UGA Tifton Campus Assistant Dean: Absolutely. We are all about making the farmer more productive which makes food affordable for people. You hear more about local-grown, we want to be able to produce food here in this region for the people of this region. So, it goes way beyond the farm. It affects our entire population. So, people like Vicki, it's amazing to watch what they can do with technology and where they can take it.
Kyle Dean, Host: It's great! Now I've learned something just in the 7 minutes that we've talked. I appreciate Vicki, you coming by and what you guys are doing out there. Joe, we appreciate your leadership out there and bringing these folks so people can understand what's going on not only with the research and with the scientists but with the technology part as well.
Dr. Joe West, UGA Tifton Campus Assistant Dean: Absolutely. It is very exciting for us. It's creating new information and we love the opportunity to share it with the folks here in the community.
Kyle Dean, Host: Back after this on WTIF.