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Unfortunately, for many farmers, such technologies are still out of reach financially. Typical costs for GPS and wireless network systems can run into the tens of thousands. As the seasons pass, however, the results may more than make up for the initial costs. "When Clay first started with the autopilot, the economics didn't seem feasible," says Doug Hefty, a farmer neighbor of the Mitchells'. "But as time went on, I had the opportunity to see what the yield did on his corn hybrids. He surpassed me by leaps and bounds--it's embarrassing. He's using less fertilizer and nitrogen than I am but growing 20 bushels more corn an acre."
Mitchell hopes the agricultural industry will come up with economical, easy-to-install technologies before small farms disappear altogether. "The plight of the family farmer is that most of them moved to the suburbs a generation ago," he says. "Many of them could have been saved if more of these practices had been in place. Technology will allow families to farm without help." And surf the Web at the same time.