Farm Operations at the ARDC

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ARDC Farm Operations play an integral part in the successful outcomes of research, teaching, and extension programs of many University departments. The ultimate mission of Farm Operations is to help facilitate research and education programs the most effective way by sharing resources and expertise.

While ARDC Farm Operations does not conduct research, it provides land, equipment, labor, expertise, and services to departments when the resource is not available within the academic department or is cost prohibitive for the department to do so on its own. This allows the university to efficiently manage ARDC lands and provide large scale agricultural services to assist the research on a least-cost basis. The farm provides a working laboratory using modern production practices and equipment sized to today’s production agriculture.

Production services relives the researcher of the burden of managing a crop and instead allowing them to concentrate on research implementation and data collection. Farm Operations manages the crop from planting through harvest and the researcher needs only to concern themselves with specialized applications and other research protocols within the field. Farm Operations works closely with the researcher to plan out every facet of the crop including research treatment layout (using the farm’s 20 ft wide equipment), seed requirements (often changing within field by hybrid and rates), tillage if needed, pest control management (weed, insect, disease), application timing and rates, irrigation, harvest method (dry grain, high moisture 28-30%, silage, identity preserved segregation). Some practices may be withheld so as not to conflict with the study treatments. For example, not applying an insecticide to control corn rootworm in a corn rootworm efficacy trial.

In all cases the farm staff must be meticulous at implementing and documenting their work in the field. The utmost care is taken to ensure that the work is competed on an accurate and consistent basis which reduces unknown variables in the research. This means getting a project planted on the same day, before a rain comes, or scheduling harvest so that the grain across a field is at the same moisture, or the plot yield is not affected by a delay in harvest.

Record keeping and reporting consumes a considerable amount of staff time. It starts with a written production plan for each field detailing seed, seed rate, fertility, acres, plot plan, and research protocols which must be followed. The plan is discussed with the staff and implemented, recording all aspects of the operations. Typical records available to the researcher include date, operation type, hybrid, variety, seed trait, seed rate, herbicide and adjuvant rates, irrigation dates and amounts, fertilizer treatments, equipment fuel use, harvest yield by weight, moisture, and spatial location (yield map). The data is analyzed, error checked and summarized for use by the researcher.

Income from cropland not intensely used for research is used to purchase all farm equipment, inputs, and labor. Much of the farm equipment is available for occasional use by all departments at ARDC, which helps keep cost of ownership down. Services such as trucking, haying, fertilizer and pesticide application, and other custom field operations are provided to research units as requested.

The farm maintains a road grader for grading of the gravel roads on the ARDC, provides snow removal on the roads, and does roadside mowing. The farm works with the animal science units to plan and manage livestock manure applications based on crop nutrient need and soil status. Hay, grain, and grazing land needs are coordinated to ensure the right feedstuff is delivered at the right time to the animal research units.

Tools of the Trade Used by Farm Operations

GPS- Global Position System
Used to record yield or hybrid by location in a field every one or two seconds during travel (about every 7-10 feet). Used to locate field and plot boundaries and to calculate the size of any field or plot.

Yield Monitor
Used to determine the harvested bushels and grain moisture while the combine is on the go. Used with GPS and yield mapping software to create a yield map showing yield variation across the field and to document plot yields.

GIS – Geographic Information System
Software which records and displays the information captured with GPS, yield monitors, planters, and sprayers. Used to create field plans showing crop and associated production parameters including seed, soil types, fertility, field boundaries, names, and area size. Keeps record of manure applications. Displays site specific yield, pesticide, and seed applications. Useful for planning plots by creating the plot boundaries on the computer dimensionally prior to application in the field. Shows land use, roads, buried utilities, irrigation system pivot tracks and end gun coverage areas, wells, aerial photos, or anything you want to tie to a location. Researchers can access much of this information via the internet on the Agricultural Research Division’s website vastly improving information sharing within the university community.

GPS Guidance
Light Bars – Aids the tractor operator or sprayer operator in maintaining a uniform application swath width. Using light indicators or arrows, the system tells the operator to steer right or left to stay on track. Very useful for wide-swath equipment such as sprayers or dry spreading equipment where the swath width is often 80’ or more and is difficult for the operator to gauge or determine where the previous swath was. The system automatically determines the swaths across the field on equally spaced patterns.

AutoSteer - This system steers the tractor automatically without operator input. Using RTK (Real Time Kinetic) GPS, the tractor can steer on its own within one inch accuracy of an intended track. Planting can be done without markers and allows the operator to skip passes and return to fill in. This is useful when planting multiple seed hybrids across the field in a repeating pattern. Research statistics require random and multiple placement of treatments across a field. For example, to compare the yields between two hybrids, one cannot just plant one side of the field to one hybrid and the second hybrid on the remaining side. Farm Operations must plant strips randomly across the field. With a conventional marker system, the seed would have to be changed out each pass before completing the next pass. Now it is possible to keep the same seed in the planter, skip passes and continue planting each of the required strips for the same hybrid across the field. When done with the first hybrid, the next hybrid can now be planted in between the first hybrid, maintaining uniformly spaced planter passes across the field.

Survey - The same RTK GPS equipment can be used to survey land features at sub-inch accuracy. This is useful in laying out and recording plots, utilities, buildings, irrigation systems, soil and plant sampling locations, and field boundaries.

Remote Control Irrigation
Center pivots can be controlled and monitored remotely by using radio and the internet from a home or office computer. This saves many hours and trips to 13 pivots and improves the timeliness of irrigation events. Each pivot reports its position in the field and its operating conditions such as water application rate, pressure, travel speed, direction of travel, end gun status. Each irrigation event is recorded to aid with irrigation scheduling and research reporting.

Farm Operations Staff Roster


Learn more about the ARDC

IANR Representation at the ARDC:
*  Agronomy and Horticulture
*  Animal Science
*  Biological Systems Engineering
*  Center for Advanced Land Management
    Information Technologies
*  Entomology
*  Husker Genetics
*  Nebraska Forest Service
*  Plant Pathology
*  School of Natural Resource Sciences
*  Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences

Other University of Nebraska representation:
*  Electrical Engineering
*  Nebraska Educational Television
*  Physics and Astronomy
*  University of Nebraska Medical Center
*  University of Nebraska - Omaha

UNL Extension:
UNL Southeast Research and Extension Center and UNL Extension in Saunders County are headquartered at the ARDC August. N. Christenson Research and Education Building.  A relationship based on shared resources and expertise has enhanced and expanded quality educational opportunities.  Many programs are due to the shared efforts of faculty, specialists, and staff from the University of Nebraska’s Research, Teaching, and Extension Divisions; public schools; agribusinesses; and other organizations.