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Geographic Information Systems (G.I.S.) is one of the fastest growing technologies today. This field covers anything and everything that can be mapped, anything from weeds to urban sprawl, if it can be mapped, G.I.S. can be used. G.I.S. uses computers to store, analyze, and show data collected about a given topic(Kennedy 1), (Zimmerman 5-9, 73-91). G.I.S. basically turns a computer into an atlas(Kennedy 1). With all this information available, how can it help the field of agriculture? G.I.S. has been used to track the spread of noxious weeds, grasshoppers, soil types, and various other factors, which help in agriculture.
First off, we can cover some G.I.S. basics. The information that is put into G.I.S. is collected from remote sensing, which can consist of aerial photography, satellite imagery, or raw G.P.S. data. G.I.S. has two main categories: raster and vector(Johnston 1-77). Raster G.I.S. uses cells and numbers to represent real objects in the world(Johnston 1-77), (Zimmerman 5-9, 73-91). These cells are assigned numerical values to represent objects in the real world. For example a certain cell could be numbered 353, and could represent a swamp, mountain, river bed, or any other physical feature found on the earth, or whatever the G.I.S. is being applied to. Vector G.I.S. represents the world by using a series of lines, shapes, and points. This G.I.S. presents physical features, or whatever the G.I.S. applies to in realistic shapes(Zimmerman 5-9, 73-91). Both of these types of G.I.S. would be applicable in agricultural systems, the vector type being more visual oriented and the raster looking more like a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet(Zimmerman 5-9, 73-91). It just depends on what you are studying, for example the terrain analysis for a new field would probably be best suited to a vector G.I.S., whereas a raster G.I.S. would be more applicable in following the movement of grasshoppers across the state of Wyoming(Zimmerman 5-9, 73-91).
G.I.S. applications are currently being used to track weed invasion in the Jack Morrow Hills area of northern Sweetwater County and southwestern Fremont County(Gillham 1-68). This is done through the remote sensing application of aerial photography. The mapping of weeds is very important to the agriculturist. They can use the information that has been collected to put forth preventative measures to keep out certain invasive species. This plays a huge role near the Jack Morrow Hills, the nearby communities of Farson and Eden both rely mainly on hay and alfalfa crops as a source of income, and with G.
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From using G.I.S. and looking at long-term results, good crop years can be predicted for certain crops. This can be predicted by looking at not only the climate of the area, but also by the other plants that grow, and are successful that season. The G.I.S. can help find this out by showing anything that changes in the given time period. For example, if last year's data showed a large growth of plant A and the plant had been successful in many of the years in the past, that information would be stored. If for some reason the plant wasn't doing nearly as well, by using the information in the G.I.S. a new person could come and look at the data to say that there could be some kind of a virus, or pathogen in the area.
Weeds aren't the only things that a G.I.S. can track; in fact, almost anything can be tracked using a G.I.S. Many projects have been done tracking the movement of insects, and other animals across the United States(Zimmerman 5-9, 73-91). This can be very helpful again as a preventative measure. If any predator or competitor is making it's way towards a farm, this can be tracked. Many species will often move in search of new food sources and water sources, especially foragers. With a G.I.S. one could look at the information of a drought in the plains, and notice that foraging animals such as deer or pronghorn antelope or even locusts and beetles could be approaching their farms or settlements. Also animals always follow distinct plant patterns when they are grazing, and through G.I.S., these plants can be located and where the patterns run. Also by knowing this, farmers can introduce those species on the edge of their crops to form a biological control.
Another great thing about G.I.S. compared to a map is that a G.I.S. can look at the individual layers of an area(Johnston 1-77). Not only are the surfaces shown, but also the rock formations, soil types, vegetation, and many other things are known(Johnston 1-77). This can be very helpful when studying new land to develop into farmland; this saves a lot of money for farmers, because now instead of having to get soil tests done, all this information is stored inside a computer.
Agriculture can become easier with the use of G.I.S. In fact it's pretty amazing that all that agricultural information is right at the hands of anyone willing to sit down and invest some money on a G.I.S. Now that computers are fairly affordable, G.I.S. will spread more rapidly. Especially now that G.I.S. can now be used on lower end computers that don't require nearly as much memory, the common person can go out and buy a computer, get some G.I.S. software and go to work. Now that agriculture and G.I.S. can be paired, the benefits and possibilities are endless.
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