Grant to fund research on runoff reduction

Travis Reed

A University-led agricultural consortium has received funding for a program designed to give Minnesota farmers more beans for their buck.
The researchers have been given $3.84 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to fund a four-year study of precision agriculture, a practice that allows farmers to target specific areas of cropland that need treatment instead of covering entire fields.
The idea is to reduce runoff and water pollution caused by overuse of potentially dangerous chemicals. The research will also examine how to cut treatment costs by reducing acreage that farmers need to cover.
“We want to apply new technology and stress information technology for improved management (of crops),” said Pierre Robert, director of the University Precision Agriculture Center.
The grant will fund respective state universities’ research in soybean fields of Minnesota and South Dakota, Montana wheat fields and Georgia peanut fields.
“The idea of the consortium is to share the adoption of the techniques to use precision agriculture and not duplicate efforts,” Robert said. “We want to apply them to different cropping systems.”
The technology arose from a Minnesota private-public partnership in the early 1980s. Its use has since gone worldwide for several varieties of cropland.
In Minnesota’s Red River Valley, a region that boasts an optimal environment for raising sugar beets, at least 40 percent of the farmers are using some form of precision agriculture.
Robert said the methods can be particularly useful to farmers and corporations that use genetically modified seeds because the seeds are not recommended to be used in planting entire fields.
But like genetically altered seeds, the technology doesn’t come without a price.
Farmers new to precision agriculture will have to scrap some old machinery in favor of new computer-based equipment. Most farmers remain unfamiliar with the how-tos of using the technology.
“There’s a need for gaining additional skills, so one aspect of the project is to use it on farms in several regions to introduce the technology to farmers,” Robert said.
Once implemented, Robert said he expects most U.S. farmers to benefit from his work.
“The concept fits very well with globalization of economies because we believe that precision ag will improve the management of cropping systems and make our farmers more competitive in the world economy,” he said.

Travis Reed covers environment and transportation and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3235.