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Georgia farmers find help in Rains

TIFTON -- Glen Rains has an investigative mind and a heart for helping others.

These traits are what make Rains a valuable part of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences family as an entomology professor on the Tifton campus.

From inventing high-tech ways to detect crop problems before they get out of hand to developing ways for injured farmers to maintain their livelihoods, Rains is in the business of solving problems affecting farm families.

Currently he's researching ways to detect plant diseases early in immature plants. Rains hopes to develop a sensing system to discover when plants are first infected. This would reduce the amount of spray applied, saving farmers time and money while reducing environmental consequences.

"My ultimate goal is what I call an automated field scout," Rains said. "You have people that scout fields for diseases and insects, weeds and all that sort of thing.

"We're developing an autonomous system to do that, so it can go out there by itself, collect data, interpret it, send it back and tell you, 'The field's got a disease over here. You're developing a pest problem here.' Eventually, we'll also have the capability of controlling it, deciding, 'We found it here and sprayed. We may need to check it later.' You carry the chemicals onboard with it as well."

While Rains is currently focused on helping farmers across Georgia and the Southeast, Rains started his career at the National Highway Safety and Traffic Administration in Washington where he helped make improvements in car safety.

"That background is kind of what led me to helping people be safer or if you are trying to get back to farming, doing it in a safe way," Rains said. "I also do regular safety prevention programs."

He's concerned about the safety of all farmers, but he's focused particularly on making farming easier and safer for farmers with limited mobility., He co-directs AgrAbility, a program designed to help farmers andfarm workers return to the field following an injury or illness. The program provides business plans, sends volunteers to assist with crops, develops assistive technology to make jobs easier and assists in redesigning a farmer's work environment to better suit his physical needs.

With a background in agricultural engineering, Rains has the knowledge to install automatic gate openers and tractor lifts that hoist disabled farmers into tractor cabs. He also assists with any construction deemed necessary, like a fence-line feeder.

"Most of these things aren't rocket science. They're just ways of coming up with solutions," Rains said.

Rains' solutions may not all be rocket science, but many are high-tech.

For instance, Rains and former U.S. Agriculture Department entomologist Joe Lewis, developed a way to train non-stinging wasps to sniff out chemicals in airport luggage or the early signs of plant disease in a farmer's field.

The wasp hound, a groundbreaking device featured on the National Geographic Channel, monitors wasps' behavior when reacting to certain odors. The wasp hound patent license was purchased by SmartHound Technologies, a company started by Rains and Lewis. The company and license were subsequently purchased last year by Bennett Aerospace.

Finding solutions is what makes Rains an important part of Georgia's farm community.

"You're helping individual farmers one at a time. It's very satisfying," Rains said.

Clint Thompson is public relations coordinator for University of Georgia, College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences in Tifton.