Project would provide data clearing house for producers


SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. – When the tunnel on the Gering-Fort Laramie Irrigation Tunnel collapsed in July, everyone from irrigation districts to producers wanted to know what they could expect in terms of lost yield as the water stopped flowing to crops.

One of the first people tapped for information was Dr. Xin Qiao, water and irrigation management specialist at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff. Figuring out the potential impact from changes in irrigation is his specialty.

One of the first things Qiao learned as he searched the internet for data that could help in his predictions, however, was just how little data was actually available. And that spawned the seed of an idea.

Qiao, working with researchers at other universities, is in the process of developing an “internet of things” network focused on agriculture production. He outlined the project Tuesday to highlight some of the work going on at PREC for retired Adm. Walter “Ted” Carter Jr., finalist to be the next president of the University of Nebraska system.

“It’s not been a very good year for water,” Qiao said. “It was really difficult to find a study that has an identical situation like what we experienced this year.

“If we want to do better predictions, we need data from farm fields at low cost,” he said. “And we need to use those data to calibrate our model every year. That’s how we can get better predictions.”

Qiao has installed a variety of sensors, both at PREC in northern Scottsbluff and at the university’s Mitchell Research Farm in the northern part of the county. Data from those sensors is sent back to Qaio’s lab, where it is compiled with the eventual goal of providing real-time updates to researchers and producers alike.

Qaio hopes to have the results of the compiled data available via the world wide web. The plan is to install additional sensors in producer’s fields, he said, expanding the available data set.

“We’re trying to develop an internet of things network for agriculture production in the region,” Qaio said. “One gateway that can talk with many devices in its range.”

The additional sensors would compile data, including seed variety, tillage method, management techniques and yield data, he said. That should help the model Qaio and his fellow researchers are developing be better able to provide accurate yield predictions across a wide range.

“We want to build a very dynamic extension system, where producers can get information from us and we can get information from them,” he said. “We’ll be helping each other to make the model better and to make farm management better.

“The beauty of the website is everything will be documented,” Qaio said. “Over the years, we’ll be able to see what changes we made and the results of those changes.”

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