Buman believes such technology is inevitable, and will come sooner rather than later. He notes that USDA is part of the National Robotics Initiative, which may put as much as $50 million a year towards development of robots that work beside or cooperatively with people.
"The question is, will technology for conservation be part of USDA's support, and will conservation technology keep pace?" he asks.
Betts writes from Johnston, Iowa.
Online conservation tools save time
Agren's online technology and LiDAR elevation data make it possible to do more than follow a contour line on the land. Their suite of tools enable conservationists and others to plan a waterway, pond, or wetland and get accurate cost estimates in just a few minutes, without a site visit.
The programs, PondBuilder, BasinBuilder, WetlandBuilder, and WaterwayBuilder, locate a planned practice on the landscape, estimate construction costs, and give landowners a vision of how the practice will fit the land. A fifth program, a new one called SoilLossCalculator, estimates expected soil losses under various cropping and conservation practice combinations. Each of the tools is state-specific, and uses standards and specifications of the USDA/NRCS.
The tools are only available in the counties and states where LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) elevation data is available.
NRCS field technicians say the programs save time and are accurate. In a survey earlier this year of 104 conservationists using the tools, a strong majority said cost estimates take far less time, accuracy is good to excellent, and the tools are easy to use.
Agren's software tools are licensed and available on a subscription basis. For more information, go online to www.agrentools.com.