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Q&A with Precision Ag Specialist, Scott Shearer

SF: What spurred your initial interest in precision ag technology?

SS: A pivotal moment in my career was in 1994 when I met Mike Ellis. Mike, who farms in Shelby County Kentucky, is the kind of farmer who always pushes the envelope. Yet, he is grounded in all things related to the cost of doing business. For instance, when I stepped onto his farm and noticed a lot of his equipment was outdoors, I asked him why he didn’t store it. His reply was, “Prove to me that I can make money doing it, and I’ll build that storage tomorrow.” In 1995, we installed a yield monitor on one of Mike’s combines and that started a 16-year relationship between me and his family farming operation. It’s really where I established my love of precision ag and precision ag technologies. He did more for my academic career than anyone else I can think of.

SF: Why do you feel precision agriculture is important?

Dr. Scott A. Shearer


Dr. Scott Shearer on Precision Tech


SS: Precision agriculture is one of the few technologies that actually serves the interests of producers, as well as those people concerned about the environment.

SF: If you could stand in front of a group of farmers who have not yet adopted some form of precision ag technology, what would you say to them?

SS: I’d probably start by asking about their barriers to adopting technology. I understand there is a hefty upfront cost for some producers to move from where they’re at to acquire technology. However, the cost is somewhat being mitigated as equipment rolls over and goes into the used market because it already has some technology on it. It used to be producers removed their yield monitors as they traded combines. Now, generally, the yield monitor goes with the machine. 

I also understand that if an individual is not farming a lot of acres, it may be difficult to justify or cash-flow some of the technologies. 

Yet, there are a number of components that have become default technologies – you have to use them. Two examples are section control and auto steer. They have become indispensable technologies in terms of what it means to productivity. 

SF: What is a project you’re working on at Ohio State?

SS: There’s a relationship evolving between OSU and several other public and private sector entities seeking to form a partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton. 

They have an interest in seeing how they might be able to transition some of the technological developments that occurred during the previous wars into the private sector for peace time use. 

They’re looking at targeting agriculture as one of those areas where some of the remote sensing technology and automation of unmanned aerial systems may be appropriate. It’s exciting.

SF: Can you share a goal you’ve set?

SS: In Ohio, we have to deal with phosphorus management because of the water-quality impacts to Lake Erie as well as Grand Lake St. Marys. I believe we are going to be managing nutrients in a substantially different way in the future. There will not be a silver bullet that solves everybody’s problem, rather the solutions will be specific to cropping systems and local conditions.

SF: What is the legacy you’d like to leave behind?

SS: I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with a number of undergraduate as well as graduate students – the majority of which are much more talented than I am. I hope I’ve been able to instill in them a passion for research as well as a passion for educating the next generation of engineers, specifically those who are going to address the problems agriculture faces.

   My hope going forward is that a number of the students whose lives I have touched will remain grounded in the fundamentals and will continue to approach problems from a practical perspective.

Name: Scott A. Shearer

Title: Professor and chair; food, agricultural and biological engineering at Ohio State University.

Background: Shearer holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from Ohio State University. He began his career as an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky. During his last four years at Kentucky, he served as the academic chair of biosystems and agricultural engineering. As an Ohio State University alumni, Shearer accepted his current position in 2011. 

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