SMITHFIELD — Some Johnston County farmers want to use GPS technology to increase productivity and reduce waste of water and chemicals. Two companies – East Coast Equipment and John Deere – are lobbying county commissioners to allow them to install the necessary equipment on county water towers.
Representatives of both companies were at last week’s commissioners’ meeting to talk about their proposal. Their GPS equipment, they said, allows farmers to use their resources more efficiently, keeping them from spraying, watering or tilling the same areas multiple times – a problem known as “overlap.”
That cuts down on the use of excess chemicals, which saves farmers money and helps the environment, said Danny Langston of . “You don’t get the excess chemicals going into the rivers and streams,” he said.
Langston said Johnston farmers are pursuing the technology “heavily,” and they’d like to broker a deal with commissioners.
“I don’t expect it to be for free, even though I wish it would be,” Langston said. “But these guys can’t pay what the cell-phone companies can pay.”
The county’s newest commissioner, Ted Godwin, asked if hilly terrain would impede the technology. Langston said minor problems were possible.
“Yes and no,” he said. “If you get underneath a tree or treeline, a person will lose out, but as far as hills or bodies of waters affecting it? No, sir.”
The equipment would be high enough in the air to keep out most interference, Langston said. John Deere says its equipment works within 12 miles of each transmitter.
Chandra Coats, a staffer with the county public utilities department, said the department had endorsed the plan. “We don’t foresee any problems,” she said. “We feel like we could come to terms with a small leasing agreement.”
Commissioners seemed intrigued by the idea, but they did not vote on the request. Later in the meeting, Commissioner Wade Stewart said he was in favor of the project, but he was worried that the county could face a flood of requests to put their equipment on county infrastructure.
“This is. to some extent, a small can of worms,” Stewart said. “We need to have some kind of policy in place with some structure to it.”
County staff said it would explore such a policy.
Commissioner Jeff Carver said the equipment could make a big difference to the county’s largest industry, which brings in $3 billion yearly. “If you look at the yields on some on peanuts and that kind of thing with this GPS stuff, it’s absolutely amazing,” he said.
Langston said the technology would benefit all residents in the long term, since farmers would spend their savings in the county. “It’s a win-win situation,” he said.