HAYS, Kan. -- Agriculture at Fort Hays State University and
Hutchinson Community College has been awarded a $277,243 grant from the
National Institute of Food and Agriculture for a precision agriculture
Precision agriculture involves using GPS and satellite technology
to map fields and precisely apply chemicals and seed and measure the crop
"One of the exciting things about this is being one of the
lead institutions to get these funds, and that was through a competitive
process," said Dr. John Greathouse, chair of the Department of Agriculture
The 2008 Farm Bill authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture
to fund this kind of grant under the title Capacity Building Grants for
Non-Land Grant Colleges of Agriculture. A $4.5 million appropriation in fall
2011 was made available through a competitive grant process to distribute the
The primary goal, in the language of the grant, is to expand
"the capacity (of non-land grant universities) to conduct education,
research and outreach activities relating to agriculture, renewable resources and
other similar disciplines."
Dr. Craig Smith, assistant professor of agriculture at FHSU, is
the principal investigator for the project, which is designed to enhance the
technical and analytical skills of students and producers using advanced precision
agriculture technologies. The grant is a collaborative venture between FHSU and
agriculture faculty from HCC. The grant allows both institutions to purchase
Co-principal investigators at HCC are Steve Sears, agriculture agronomy
instructor, and Dale Conard, ag-diesel coordinator and instructor.
Both schools will use grant money to acquire equipment. FHSU will
acquire a field tractor with auto-steer capability and a 60-foot crop sprayer
with automatic boom section control for use on the 3,800-acre University Farm,
said Smith. HCC will purchase a GPS-compatible grain combine and a farm utility
vehicle with soil grid sampling equipment.
At HCC, on the college's 425-acre farm, Sears and his students
will use the equipment in the field. The farm utility vehicle will be used with
the soils class as one of the laboratory sessions. The class will map out
five-acre blocks to collect soil samples and then map zones of similar soil
properties. Then soil inputs will be applied with variable-rate technology,
which adjusts the application -- chemical or seed -- in different zones in the
field. The combine will be used by the ag-diesel students in the combine
Students in the fields at HCC will learn to use the auto-steer
functions and the equipment and software that controls fertilizer and seed amounts.
They will learn to use equipment that has auto-shutoff functions that control planters
and sprayers section by section to eliminate over-planting and over-spraying.
They will learn to make the practical kinds of applications that can make
equipment pay for itself.
"We're good at collecting data, and Fort Hays State will be
helpful in evaluating data and turning it into information," said Sears.
"It will be a good partnership for both colleges."
A textbook description of precision agriculture, said FHSU's Smith,
is "site-specific management of crops for purposes of reducing waste,
increasing profits and improving the quality of the environment." In
layman's terms, "Precision agriculture is using technology in agriculture
to increase efficiency and increase profits."
In the field, he said, "We want to be able to map yields,
perform some precision soil sampling and mapping, and create seed and
fertilizer prescription maps."
"We'll tailor the application of fertilizer and, eventually,
seed inputs to the specific soil or crop needs throughout individual fields, with
the potential of varying it down to the foot." This means changing
fertilizer rates and chemical application rates throughout a particular field
based on soil and plant needs.
"Back in the classroom," he said, "we'll focus on
how to analyze and use the data with a goal of profit maximization."
One technology that has proven itself profitable in the production
ag industry is automatic boom section controllers for crop sprayers. "In
the classroom, we spend some time analyzing the economics of investing in technologies such as
these," said Smith. "This grant provides an opportunity to then go
out to the field and give students some hands-on experience with the
Precision ag technology can be highly precise with different
levels of precision required for different field operations. "The
tractor's GPS display records its exact location at any given moment, meaning
latitude and longitude, down to two or three inches," said Smith.
"There's equipment out there that will take you down to the centimeter,
sub-inch level, but that precision isn't necessary for what we want to do at
"I would stress that technology like this isn't anything
new," he said. "A lot of farmers have been mapping fields for 15 years
or more, but many of them aren't doing much with the data. They aren't using it
to its full potential. They aren't using it in their production
This means, he said, "they have pretty maps. They're neat to
look at, but a lot of times they don't go much further with them. We're trying
to teach our students how to use this data to help to make profitable
It is this kind of information that will go back and forth between
HCC and FHSU, from the fields where the data are gathered to the computer labs for
analysis, and then back again to the fields so that students can learn to use
Smith said that yield mapping and variable rate seeding will be
possible through the support of Carrico Implement, Hays, Ellsworth and Beloit.
"We’ve had great support and cooperation from Carrico Implement in the
past, and it is our hope that this grant allows us to strengthen that industry
relationship and build several more," said Smith.
But there is another key piece of the partnership -- the ag-diesel
program at Hutchinson Community College. Part of HCC's portion of the grant
will procure a much newer combine to replace a 1979 model that is simply not
compatible with modern precision agriculture equipment, said Conard, the
ag-diesel coordinator. The new combine will be precision agriculture capable,
"but our students will install the components and make those work
together, and learn how to calibrate and set it up in the field."
"Our students will be able to do the install and then be able
to troubleshoot it year after year, and repair it and use it on the HCC
farm," he said. "Beyond that, our students can be trained on how to
service that equipment, work on it and troubleshoot it in addition to
He summarized, "Our angle is service. We're trying to teach
the techs that will go into the dealerships. We're not trying to interpret the
data, we're just setting up the equipment."
HCC's ag-diesel program has two classes in combines, said Conard.
Students learn to work on all the systems -- electrical, hydraulic, the various
sensors, air conditioning, engine and powertrain. The grant will provide them
not only with new equipment to work on, but more.
"For us, this is going to help in those classes," he
said, "having new equipment to work on and then the GPS equipment, too.
This will be a good asset for the program."
"Part of the grant is the collaboration between the two
institutions," said HCC's Sears. "We're going to go back and forth
with some students and we're also going to develop a 2-plus-2 transfer
agreement that specifically includes a practical and applied precision
agriculture component. They could start with us to get the practical,
mechanical side of the degree here and get the management and the application
of the data at Fort Hays State."
FHSU has what are called 2-plus-2 articulation agreements with
community colleges across Kansas covering several different programs. These
articulation agreements lay out the classes required in both schools to ensure
a seamless, painless transition from the community college to FHSU. With these
agreements in place, students and advisers at both schools can know exactly
what course work is required, and therefore credit transfers for course work
In this particular partnership, "Hutch's component is using
the equipment and maintaining it, and we add on to that by analyzing and
interpreting the data for future application," said Greathouse.
"This strengthens our bond with HCC. We are looking to have a
stronger transfer and articulation program, and this is a component that helps
us make the transition of students in here even smoother and easier. It is
really for those students who have a desire to focus on the application, utilization
and advancement of precision agriculture technologies."