Teachers exploring technology in agriculture

Thanks to the advance of technology, precision agriculture has given farmers new tools in their toolboxes to advance crop health and increased yield. Participants in the Exploring Tech in Ag workshop in Columbus, sponsored by the Ohio State University and a USDA-NIFA grant, learned about the way technology informs farming decisions and helps farmers produce more abundant crops.

22 teachers from around the state and one from Pennsylvania gathered at The Ohio State University’s Waterman Agriculture and Natural Resources Laboratory Complex in Columbus. The two day workshop included field work, demonstrations, and data analysis.

What happens to nitrogen?
The nitrogen cycle activity showed how nitrogen changes forms within earth’s atmosphere and how it interacts with the lithosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere. Participants role-played forms of nitrogen and interacted with bacteria to see how nitrogen compounds change, to show how differently nitrogen reacts in soils compared to the other common nutrients, phosphorus and potassium.

How healthy is your soil?
Next, it was out to the field to collect soil samples and measure nutrient content. Activities included testing with the Lamotte soil testing kit and a soil charge demonstration. Using the GreenSeeker handheld device to measure canopy color and cover is a way to predict the nitrogen requirement of corn crops. The remote sensing device determines how much red light is reflected—healthy plants absorb more red light and may need less nitrogen application. This lesson introduces students to the technologies involved in precision agriculture and the connection between light and crop health.

Chuck Crawford, a teacher at Dublin Jerome High School, presented a threaded PBL, Managing nutrient needs in agriculture. This lesson culminates in students determining which spray nozzle would be appropriate for soil amendments and pesticides, then evaluating the pattern of a sprayer to assess their choice.

How does the planting date matter?
Soybeans reach maturity depending on when they are planted. Using the Canopeo app, participants checked canopy closure to compare crop development and measured yield potential. Using this app demonstrated how much easier technology made the measurement, as opposed to other measures used in the field.

What is the benefit of variable rate seeding?
Teachers looked at three test plots to determine how the number of plants in a plot affects height and stem diameter to introduce the idea of variable rate planting. Farmers can build maps using soil properties, yield patterns, and aerial imaging to determine what seeding rate is best for different areas. Mike Gilkey of 3D Aerial talked to the group about how drone photography helps provide information for these maps.

What do the numbers show?
Finally, Kathy Daniels of Mississinewa High School presented a data analysis lesson. Participants did t-tests with on-farm research data to see if a significant result was present.

This workshop was presented again in Custar, Ohio, at the Northwest Agricultural Research Station. Armed with these great lessons and activities, teachers can help their students understand more about modern farming and the advantages of the using technology in agriculture.