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 partnership, according to the Hays Post of Hays, Kan.

“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 at FHSU.

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 funding.

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 equipment.

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 classes.

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.” 

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