Q & A: Reflections Of A Precision Ag Intern

Through a partnership program sponsored by MapShots, Inc., 21-year-old Austin Gulasky spent his summer as a precision ag intern. He split the 10-week period between Southern States Cooperative, in Richmond, VA, and MapShots, in Cumming, GA.

Now a senior at Virginia Tech University, Austin majors in agricultural technology, although he considers himself a “crop and soils” guy.

Raised on a grain farm in East Central Virginia, Austin wanted an internship that would put him on the leading edge of technology. His original goal: Bring valuable precision ag expertise back to the family farm. But his plans may be changing as a result of the internship.

Q: How did you first get involved with precision agriculture?

Austin: That’s interesting, because I’m not really a computer person! I don’t have a reputation for being tech savvy among my family and friends.
But all the equipment we’ve bought for the farm in the past two or three years has some sort of precision ag aspect to it — auto steer, GPS, cloud-based monitors, etc. I wanted to learn more about it…it is the future of farming after all.

Q: How did the internship come about?

A: My professor, Wes Gwaltney, felt very strongly that the best way to learn precision ag is to experience it day-to-day. When MapShots contacted him about the program, he offered it to his students. I was very lucky to be chosen for it.

Q: Do you know anyone else who’s had a precision ag internship?

A: No, I believe it’s a pretty new idea. Other internships I heard about wanted you to milk cows and do farm work. This one lets you use your brain more.

Q: What did you do during your five weeks with Southern States?

A: My first three weeks were spent in the office learning the MapShots AgStudio software platform. They had me doing case-by-case scenarios. For instance, if someone had trouble entering crop zones, I would help them. The last two weeks were spent on the road. I helped a local co-op do soil sampling. Then I went to Kentucky for a week, spending time at three different Southern States locations. Kentucky is a bit more advanced in precision ag than Virginia, so I got to see more intensive uses of data management.

Q: And how about when you went down to Georgia for five weeks with MapShots?

A: First, I put our family’s farm on the AgStudio platform as a demo for me to use. It showed me the nuts-and-bolts of the program. I worked closely with Field Product Managers Clint and Shauna Ingram, running scripts and doing testing. I also spent time with the support team, listening in on phone calls. I got to the point where I could answer questions and that felt pretty good.

I went on the road for them too. I traveled in Alabama with Mathew Tapley, business development rep. He took me to Auburn University’s Central Alabama Crops Tour, where I got to see cotton and other crops I wasn’t too familiar with. The Drift Control experiment was the highlight for me there.

Q: How has the internship changed your future plans?

A: I always wanted to go back to the family farm. It’s a small operation and I wanted to bring my knowledge back to grow the business. But now I would consider the possibility of working for the co-op back home or another provider, maybe doing soil sampling and helping area farmers understand the data. A lot of farmers aren’t really tech savvy and they need help.

Q: Any other thoughts about precision ag?

A: Through my studies and this internship I’ve really seen firsthand how precision ag can help you. Precision ag allows farmers to work smarter, not harder.

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