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Technology increasing agricultural productivity and safety

Technology increasing agricultural productivity and safety


Advances in technology are more and more defining the future of agriculture.

Recently, Sen. Deb Fischer has introduced legislation to support the Internet of Things (IoT) for precision agriculture. Meanwhile, at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, two UNL engineering students, one from Aurora, have been awarded a Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for their grain robot invention designed to keep grain farmers safe.

Fischer (R-Neb.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., both members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, worked together to introduce the IoT legislation.

Fischer said precision agriculture systems gather important sensor data that can help ag producers do their jobs.

“However, unreliable signal connectivity or power can restrict Nebraska farmers and ranchers from reliably using this new technology,” she said. “My new legislation will ensure that research and development consider the unique circumstances facing rural and ag communities.” Randy Wood, Lindsay Corporation’s president and CEO, said his company supports further investment to support rural farmers who rely on connected technology to improve efficiency and productivity.

“Water is a precious resource, and we should take every opportunity to implement the tools needed to improve data reliability in rural areas, supporting increased yields and water conservation,” Wood said.

Mike Boehm, NU vice president and Harlan vice chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at UNL, said precision technologies will play an increasingly important role in the continued success of Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers.

“Increased federal investments in research that will advance precision agriculture is good for our farmers and ranchers and good for Nebraska, where one in four jobs is tied to agriculture,” Boehm said. “I commend Sen. Fischer for introducing this important legislation.”

In addition to that legislation, University of Nebraska students are playing an important role in advancing agricultural technology.

Two UNL engineering students have been awarded a Lemelson-MIT Student Prize for their invention designed to keep grain farmers safe.

Seniors Ben Johnson, an electrical engineering major from Aurora, and Zane Zents, a computer engineering major from Omaha, pitched the plan for their product, Grain Weevil, for the national award. They were chosen alongside three other undergraduate teams and four graduate winners. They will receive a $10,000 prize.

The Grain Weevil is a small robot designed to maintain grain, eliminating the need for farmers to enter bins, which can be dangerous and even fatal.

The idea for the Grain Weevil came from a conversation between Johnson’s father, Chad, and an Aurora farmer. Ben Johnson was an underclassman at the time and had just completed his first major robotics project. Chad Johnson was talking about it with one of his friends from church.

“We showed him this robot and he said, ‘Hey, if you can build that robot, you could build me a robot to stay out of the grain bin,’” Chad Johnson said.

With the idea in place, the Johnsons got to work. Ben brought in his friend and former roommate Zents to round out their skill set. After two years of trials, and hundreds of hours of work, they finished the robot.

The latest version of the Grain Weevil is a 30-pound remote-controlled robot that uses augers and gravity to level grain and redistribute it throughout the bin. It can be transported by backpack, and is waterproof and dustproof. If it is accidentally buried, it can dig itself out of up to 5 feet of grain.

Receiving the Lemelson-MIT award has shown Johnson and Zents that their idea has been accepted by some of the best and brightest minds in the STEM world. The pair are passionate about their product — and grateful that the Lemelson-MIT judges saw that fire.

“We’re trying to keep farmers safe. We’re trying to keep our neighbors — our communities — from getting hurt,” Zents said. “I think they saw that passion, they saw the message and they let us succeed.”

After graduation, the two plan to work on the Grain Weevil full-time in hopes of bringing it to farmers across America.

University of Nebraska–Lincoln contributed to this story.

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