Precision Ag Seminar to be Held in Great Falls, Mont.

Published online: Sep 20, 2013 Terri Adams, The Prairie Star
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Farming and agriculture are synonymous, but in recent years the term precision agriculture has entered our lexicon as more technology has been brought forth to help farmers in their operations. Precision agriculture is now such a big part of farming operations it is becoming the norm.

"In a few years we will not call it precision agriculture, it will be just agriculture, as more and more growers are adopting precision management practices," said Olga Walsh, an assistant professor of soil nutrient management with Montana State University. She works at the Western Triangle Ag Research Center in Conrad.

To increase producers' awareness of precision agriculture concepts and to assist them in making the shift to more efficient sustainable operations, Walsh has coordinated the first annual Precision Ag Seminar. It will be held Oct. 24 in Great Falls, Mont., at the Best Western Plus Heritage Inn.

"We hope to get 150 to 200 producers involved," she said.

The seminar is organized as a part of the Reference Strips and Precision Sensors for Increased Nitrogen Use Efficiency grant funded by Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE). Their entire focus is to help producers become more sustainable and precision ag is one way that can help make that happen.

Walsh has lined up a selection of top speakers, including the 2009 Precision Ag Farmer of the Year, Robert Blair, an Idaho farmer.

Blair recently was part of a panel that discussed the use of drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) in agriculture at the InfoAg precision agriculture convention in Springfield, Ill. At the seminar he will talk about his precision ag journey, the tools and methodologies he has used and how his farming business has benefited from their utilization. In addition, Blair will serve on an interactive panel that will consist of producers, crop consultants, ag industry representatives, and university researchers.

The seminar will begin with an introduction and overview of the Western Triangle Ag Research Center's Western SARE project along with the 4Rs concept, led by Walsh.

Following her remarks, Dave Wichman of the Central Ag Research Center will speak on precision seed placement.

Blair will discussion will be titled "Precision Ag: A Grower's Experience". He will be followed by Patrick Hensleigh of the USDA-NRCS, who will discuss nutrient management programs.

After a break for a free lunch provided by the Western SARE grant, attendees will be able to take part in an interactive round table with Blair; Korey Fauque, a producer; Chuck Gatzemeier, a crop consultant; Hensleigh, a USDA-NRCS agronomist; and Walsh.

After that, Prashant Jha, an assistant professor of weed sciences at Montana State, will discuss precision weed management.

During the day there will be two open question and answer sessions as well as an interactive round table.

"This seminar is meant to encourage an interaction among the agricultural professionals and to provide an informal and two-sided educational opportunity," said Walsh. "It is recommended for anyone who wants to share their experience with precision ag or for those just learning about it and want to know more and how to get into precision ag."

Western SARE supports precision ag as a tool of sustainable agriculture, which must be economically viable, socially responsible and ecologically sound.

"An agriculture that uses up or degrades its natural resource base, or pollutes the natural environment, eventually will lose its ability to produce. It's not sustainable," said Dr. John E. Ikerd, extension professor at the University of Missouri.

"An agriculture that isn't profitable, at least over time, will not allow its farmers to stay in business. It's not sustainable," he continued. "An agriculture that fails to meet the needs of society, as producers and citizens as well as consumers, will not be sustained by society. It's not sustainable. A sustainable agriculture must be all three: ecologically sound, economically viable and socially responsible. And the three must be in harmony."

This seminar is geared to help producers move in that direction.

The cost of the seminar is free and lunch is provided to all participants. There will also be drawings for prizes. The seminar will start at 8 a.m. and conclude at 4 p.m.

All the speakers' presentations will be available at the Precision Nutrient Management blog at

For more information contact Walsh at (406) 278-7707 or by e-mail at