COLUMBUS, Ohio–Conservation measures and climate-smart agriculture at The Ohio State University got a boost last week with the announcement of a $1.2 million investment by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to fund a new robotic irrigation system.
USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown announced the project Friday during a tour of Ohio State’s Waterman Agricultural and Natural Resources Laboratory to highlight the critical role of agriculture in the nation’s economy and the administration’s investment in agricultural research and extension.
Waterman is part of Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
The project is designed to advance climate-smart agriculture as it relates to efficiently irrigating and applying nutrients to crops. The project focuses on a robotic irrigation system that aligns nutrient application timing to a crop’s nutrient needs and improves irrigation efficiency, having high probability of impacting water quality and reducing evaporation. The project will be implemented in Ohio and Iowa and is one of 19 new Conservation Innovation Grants funded by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Vilsack said.
“Innovation is key to addressing the climate crisis and conserving the natural resources we all depend on,” Vilsack said in a written statement. “We know we cannot do it alone, and through Conservation Innovation Grants, we bring partners to the table who are using the latest science and research to come up with solutions that work for farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners and help ensure the longevity of American agriculture.”
Vilsack and Brown toured Waterman and participated in a discussion with university faculty and staff and industry stakeholders that was moderated by Cathann A. Kress, Ohio State’s vice president for agricultural administration and CFAES dean.
Kress pointed to the current construction of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Research Complex and the plans for the new Multispecies Animal Learning Center as part of the continuing innovation at Waterman. Robotic-enhanced farming and artificial intelligence research were also highlighted.
“We are so delighted to have visitors coming out to learn more about the science and the technology of our college in our focus on food, agriculture, and environmental sciences,” Kress said. “Robotics are another important addition to what we can do here at The Ohio State University to provide a world-class education for our students and a world-class research environment for our faculty.”
“Through our teaching, research, and extension, the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences serves local, state, national, and global needs in the food, agricultural, and environmental sciences. As the cornerstone college of our comprehensive land-grant university, our purpose—we sustain life—touches nearly all disciplines and challenges facing society.”
Vilsack echoed that sentiment, calling the research and education at Waterman and CFAES critical to the nation’s agricultural and environmental future.
“There’s a lot of cool things happening today, but there is nothing more cool than what we are doing right here,” he said. “The ability of young people to engage in transforming our agricultural system to support local and regional food systems, to support commodity-scale agriculture, to embrace both of those in an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of American agriculture and allow it to be a national and international leader in climate change is an exciting opportunity.”
“And to be able to do it in a way that increases the bottom line for farmers, ranchers, and producers increases their ability to keep the farm and to transfer it to the next generation, is just an exciting opportunity.”
Ohio State President Kristina M. Johnson provided welcoming remarks during the event. Also in attendance were Scott Shearer, professor and chair of the CFAES Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, who will be leading the new climate-smart agriculture, and Terry Cosby, chief of NRCS, which is the USDA agency issuing the funding for the project.