FHSU Precision Ag Ed Program Diversifies

August 28, 2000
by Larry Dreiling

The Fort Hays State University Department of Agriculture's Precision Agriculture curriculum continues to expand and diversify, according to Dr. John Greathouse, chairman of the department.
"During the past year we harvested and collected crop yield data on approximately 320 acres or 4 fields of milo and approximately 480 acres or 6 fields of wheat," Greathouse said. "The fall 1999 milo harvest was performed using a 9510 John Deere combine. John Deere provided us with a new 9550 combine for the summer of 2000 wheat harvest. This machine is equipped with a StarFire position receiver that has a 10-satellite tracking capability and an average 10-inch accuracy using a dual-frequency DGPS Signals."

"We continue to use the satellite receiver unit attached to a four-wheeler to collect soil samples and generate perimeter maps of our fields. This also will be the second year that we cooperate with Collingwood Grain to apply fertilizer, using variable rate technology, to two parcels of wheat ground selected for long-term demonstration and study."

Various commercial computer software packages are being utilized in the analysis and interpretation of the crop yield and soil analysis data. These programs include John Deere's JD Map, and Agris Corporation's Field Link and Ag Link packages. There also are plans to incorporate Farmland Industry's Crop Management System (CMS) decision-based software, and FarmWorks FarmTrac field mapping and recordkeeping package, into the academic program this next year, with overlapping application to the agronomy, and agribusiness disciplines.

The department's precision agriculture equipment inventory was expanded with the purchase a new field sprayer equipped with a Raven variable-rate controller. Greathouse said department faculty currently are examining opportunities to incorporate this technology into the program.

"Students are involved with all phases of the agronomic data collection process," Greathouse said. "The greatest degree of exposure has been with those student hired as employees of the University Farm Crop Division, who have received extensive training on equipment utilization and harvest data collection.

"Some students have received academic credit through Agriculture Problems classes for working on individualized projects involving sample data collection and interpretation. Students in Agronomic Crop Science, Soil Science and Crop Production have received a more general exposure to the department's agronomic precision ag efforts.

During the upcoming academic year, the department plans to use the combine's yield monitoring system to collect data to assess the impact of fall and winter cattle grazing on wheat yields. The initial design of the experiment is being developed, and will be dependent upon soil moisture level and plant growth.

"If all goes as planned, the trial will provide us with some very important and useful information for producers in the area. This, of course, is in addition to the inherent value of this type of project to our instructional program in all three agriculture disciplines," Greathouse said.

"Our precision agriculture emphasis remains diverse as we continue to include use of the Dairy Division's automated feed management and milking system, as well as the Heat Watch breeding detection system for cattle. The Heat Watch system was incorporated, for the first time this summer, into our Beef Division heifer breeding program. Students receiving varying levels of exposure to these precision systems as part of their academic studies.