NFarms research to bring precision ag innovations to producers

January 18, 2024

University of Nebraska–Lincoln (UNL) scientists and staff are formalizing existing research and outreach in precision agriculture into a strategic initiative called NFarms.

The effort, in collaboration with producers and industry, will refine and expand precision ag capabilities crucial to boosting farm efficiency and environmental sustainability.

UNL faculty pursue a range of precision ag work on 3,000 acres of the university’s Eastern Nebraska Research, Extension and Education Center (ENREEC) near Mead. Those efforts will be channeled into NFarms to facilitate strategic coordination and maximize the outreach and benefits.

According to information provided by UNL, NFarms will be a test bed for new technologies, as well as platforms to help farmers better harness data. The initiative will develop decision-making tools producers can use for efficient field management. This includes drone- and sensor-enabled operations, plus software solutions that provide cloud-based ag data storage and data analytics. In addition, nitrogen management innovations and ag robotic breakthroughs.

According to Joe Luck, professor of biological systems engineering and associate director of ENREEC, NFarms provides an opportunity as a technology hub integrating the farm system. “We have a real-world environment to test these technologies and show producers how they’re going to impact their operation.”

To buttress that work, the university is breaking ground on an NFarms facility that will house precision ag technologies. Construction is expected to be complete this summer.

The university’s precision ag work at ENREEC operates under real-world conditions, on a scale similar to that of actual working farms; the research involves both irrigated and dryland fields. In all, the center has a total of nearly 10,000 acres for ag research.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture plans to build a regional ag research facility at Nebraska Innovation Campus to provide opportunities for ongoing collaboration with NFarms. UNL stated that federal facility will “greatly increase the number of USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists in Nebraska, and they will be focusing on precision ag technologies.” ENREEC will provide a major venue for their field research. ARS scientists “will want somewhere to work on those topics, and ENREEC can be the prime real estate for them,” Luck said. “That’s a huge opportunity for us.”

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