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Sustainable Ag: Partnering for the Better
Kansas Ag Connection - 05/24/2018

Saline County farmer Justin Knopf has no problem trying something new. Make that ... a lot of somethings new. A K-State agronomy graduate, Knopf, along with his brother and father, grows wheat, alfalfa, soybeans, grain sorghum, corn and multi-specie cover crops in a dryland, no-till environment.

The Knopfs are collaborating with K-State agronomy assistant professor Andres Patrignani on a project that uses new sensor technology to develop soil-moisture based on management zones within a field.

"Like most of Kansas, we farm in a water-limited environment, so the amount of water that soil can effectively capture and store is a good predictor for potential productivity," Knopf said. "The ability to divide a field into management zones based on soil moisture would allow farmers to manage each zone more precisely, making the most of the water we receive."

In work with K-State Research and Extension agronomist Ignacio Ciampitti, the Knopfs are using satellite imagery during the growing season to predict crop yields at harvest. The results look promising, Knopf said.

"This is useful for quantifying varying levels of productivity within a field, which will allow us to divide the field into management zones to more precisely manage each area of the field," he said. "It is also helpful for discovering a problem area within a field earlier than we may find it through scouting or visual observations, which may allow us to be more proactive in solving the problem before it causes more damage."

When the family was considering expanding cover crops on their operation, K-State helped design an experiment, monitor weed levels to quantify suppression from the cover crop, and statistically analyze the data.

"K-State is collaborating with not only our farm on these projects and, of course, many others, but replicating the same projects on a number of farms across the state," Knopf said. "The data and outcomes on other farms is also valuable and relevant to our farm, which is yet another layer of value in the relationship and collaboration between K-State and Kansas farmers."

Definition of the word sustainable: 1: capable of being sustained. 2: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. - Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The word "sustainable" is used a lot in modern-day agriculture, and Kansas State University researchers have teamed with Kansas farmers on projects to ensure that raising crops is done in ways that are both economically and environmentally sustainable.

The idea is that you can't spend a lifetime growing food if you can't make a living doing it, but you also can't damage or destroy a farmland's ability to grow that food and still expect it to support food production for years to come.

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