Ag Students Use Computers, Satellites to Plan Field Work

Neil  Patrick and Levi GetzFor Parents Only Newsletter
Winter, 1998
by Kurt Beyers
University Relations
At Right: Levi Getz, a Gove senior majoring in animal science at FHSU, and Dr. Neil Patrick, assistant professor of agriculture, demonstrate the integration of satellite technology into practical applications in the field last summer at the University Farm.

Undergraduate agriculture students at Fort Hays State University this past summer began reaping a harvest of satellites and computers as well as grain during wheat harvest on the University Farm.

The yield was monitored by an on-board computer and global positioning satellites to develop a computer generated map of how much wheat came from every part of the field. With other maps of such things as soil fertility, pH levels and weed infestation, the information can later be used by other computers, guided by global positioning satellites, to vary the amount of chemicals or seed applied from one section of the field to another.

This is precision agriculture, a system of software and machinery designed and built to optimize a farmer's efficiency and profit margin, said Dr. John R. Greathouse, chair of FHSU's Department of Agriculture.

‘‘It's very exciting that we are at the very beginning stages of the practical application of this technology,’’ said Greathouse.

‘‘We at FHSU have positioned ourselves as a premier institution in the country to offer precision agriculture instruction at the undergraduate level,’’ he said.

For Dr. Bob Stephenson, associate professor of agriculture, who led the harvest team, the advantage to undergraduates is that they will be able to enter the agricultural marketplace and go to work for any of the companies that are developing precision agriculture systems: John Deere, Farmland Industries, Servitech, Crop Quest, Collingwood Grain, Caterpillar and others.

‘‘Our idea is to provide our students with training and understanding of precision farming,’’ said Stephenson.

‘‘As far as I know,’’ said Stephenson, ‘‘we will be the only institution in the Great Plains or Midwest region that will get our undergraduate students hands-on experience with precision farming.’’

It is the combination of a farm owned by the university and the specialized equipment that makes FHSU a unique laboratory for providing undergraduates with on-the-job experience in precision farming. FHSU President Dr. Edward H. Hammond was the catalyst.

‘‘He came to the Agriculture Department and asked us what we needed to get into the high-tech arena," said Greathouse. The department then produced a plan and a list of the equipment needed to carry it out.

‘‘This is just another step in the plan to extend the high-tech curriculum to all areas of the campus," said Hammond.

‘‘I am happy to help provide our undergraduate agriculture students with the same kind of technological advantages that so many of our other students enjoy,’’ he said.

John Deere provided a $151,000 combine for the harvest, a Maximizer 9510 which is a component of Deere's trademarked GreenStar precision farming systems. Farmland Industries provided the software. The combine was equipped with a mass-flow sensor, which gave a continuous measurement and read-out of the quantity of grain being harvested, and a computer, which correlated the yield information with continuous satellite readings. The resulting data was used to create a yield map of the field.

‘‘I think the key here is that we are cooperating with the major companies who are at the forefront of precision agriculture technology,’’ he said.