March 12, 2003 | By: Laura Skillman

Research efforts in precision agriculture at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture focus on this vast new technology with an eye toward enhancing income and environmental quality.

Nancy Cox, associate dean for research, said a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, secured by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, has helped support the research since 1999.

Cox said the research is geared toward Kentucky farms by a multidisciplinary team of UK specialists who work well together.

“They are committed to being relevant,” Cox said. “They want to answer the questions that are most relevant to the farmers.”

A nine-member steering committee consisting of faculty from the departments of agronomy, agricultural economics and biosystems and agricultural engineering guides the research efforts.

“This is not the type of research that can be undertaken by one academic discipline or by any one group whether that be service providers, manufacturers or farmers,” said Scott Shearer, an Extension agricultural engineer and steering committee member. “This is a team effort.”

There are 24 UK faculty and eight professional staff members participating in various research and Extension projects. In addition, there is an industry advisory board of farmers and private industry representatives that review project proposals. The U.S.

Natural Resources Conservation Service also is involved.

“There is a broad range of people who have something to say with regard to how this project proceeds,” he said.

The team’s effort focuses on research and outreach programs that are pertinent to Kentucky farmers, based on the scale of Kentucky farms and the nature and variety of what is produced in Kentucky, he said.

In Kentucky there is probably more variability in soils and climate across the state than any other state in the nation, Shearer noted.

“It’s this variability that Kentucky farmers need to exploit,” he said. “It’s doing the right thing at the right place at the right time.”

In addition to meeting the needs of producers, precision agriculture can serve society at large by its site-specific technologies and its impact on environmental quality. Evaluating these technologies and their relationship with environmental quality is another of UK’s research objectives.

To date, nearly 40 precision agriculture projects are ongoing. Research is being conducted in eight Kentucky counties from central to western Kentucky.  Projects range from equipment accuracy testing to variable rate seeding to site-specific nutrient management to profit mapping. There also are cooperative projects being conducted with two regional universities.

Some of the research was highlighted during the first precision agriculture conference sponsored by UK during the recent National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville. Plans are to have an annual conference to update farmers, industry and the public on the latest research findings.

In addition to the research, there is a strong outreach component that uses the

UK Cooperative Extension Service to get information generated from the research quickly into the hands of producers. An undergraduate course also has been taught for five semesters on the UK campus, and a mobile teaching laboratory is available to train people across the state how to use some of this technology.

A Web site has been developed where information on precision agriculture research projects as well as educational materials is available. The information can be accessed at


Scott Shearer (859) 257-3000 ext. 218