Monday, 8 July 2013
Auburn University, Alabama
I spent my first full day in the US at Auburn University, Alabama. I was collected by Simerjeet Virk, a researcher for John Fulton, Associate Professor and Extension Specialist, Biosystems Engineering, who was my contact at Auburn University, but was unfortunately out of town. We meet up with Prof. Tim Macdonald, whose expertise was in forestry, for breakfast. Forestry is a big business in Alabama as 70% of the state is forest, which is clear to see as you fly in. We discussed how yield mapping can be utilised in forestry, not something I had considered before, it is used as a tool to plan logistics mainly. After breakfast we toured the faculty and labs, where all manner of research was taking place, from using high speed cameras to record the spread pattern of chicken litter, to measuring the nutrient value of manures and adjusting the application rate accordingly, to measuring flow rate of wood going through a wood pulping machine. Due to the climate and growing season in Alabama, industry uses the university facilities for winter testing of new products.
Next I met Jim Lancaster, who was involved with Media and Communications, we discussed how universities can reach out to grassroots farmers like myself. There are many routes from traditional meetings to using social media, but all methods need to be driven from the farm level up and not the other way round.
Simerjeet and I met up with Prof. Brenda Ortiz for lunch, where she explained her research work in climatology. I had a lesson on the the El Nino and La Nina weather patterns and how they can be used to predict if the weather in Alabama will be warmer and drier or cooler and wetter. The prediction is better closer to the gulf coast. This research has helped develop weather modelling software, which is being used to predict the effect of planting date in corn on the final yield.
After lunch we headed out to the research farm, in total their are seven farm units, including all types of farming covering 2200acres. As Auburn university was originally a land grant university, there are very strong links to agriculture and engineering, which must be a good thing.
At the research farm they were carrying out extensive research into variety responses to seed rate, nutrition, and down force on the coulter at planting.
Simerjeet Virk, my host for the day.
The corn was already well above our heads, and looked healthy and full of potential, to my highly trained eye. The corn in the picture above was part of the trial looking at the effects of coulter down force, what is the optimum? How does that change with soil type and moisture? Not enough down force and the seed placement is inaccurate, too much and the seed furrow is compacted.
One industry partner working at Auburn was Teejet, they had fitted the sprayer boom with electric flow meters on each nozzle to record if the nozzle was blocked and if so it would alert the operator to the problem.
Electronic nozzle flow meters by Teejet
The research farm does comprehensive testing of machines to verify if they do exactly what the manufacturers claim. As part of the variable rate seed trial, they are looking at how fast the machines can adapt to changing seed rates.
Experimental farms corn planter
The planter above has the capability to be able to vary the seed rate from row to row, and has sectional control, as each seed metering unit has it's own independent drive.
A large part of Brenda Ortiz's research is into the response from corn to nitrogen, both how it is applied and when. The trial has been running since 2009, and using a greenseeker to measure the different levels of biomass. So far the research has shown that if possible side dress the corn at growth stage V8 (eight leaves with a collar) rather than V6, and NIR imagery gives a better correlation to Nitrogen requirement than a NDVI image.
Prof. Brenda Ortiz
Variable rate of N on corn.
Our final stop for the day was to look at a centre pivot irrigator that is being used to evaluate variable rate irrigation, but as is normal with precision farming more questions are raised than solutions found! Do you apply water according to soil type, yield potential, soil moisture or correcting rainfall ? Do you work with historical data or try to collect it in real time? lots of questions, but an answer will be found, particularly because 80% of water usage in Alabama is for irrigation.
I had a very good day at Auburn, and I thank everyone I met and spoke to.