“I think we’re onto something,” Jeff Bradshaw said as a robot made its way through a field at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center on Thursday during the Panhandle Ag and Research Technology Tour.

Bradshaw, an entomologist at the center, said the “Rowbot” was designed by a team of Western Nebraska Community College students. Bradshaw gave them a budget of $1,000 to create a robot that could help collect canopy closure and weed density information in row crops.

“I wanted to see what we could do on the cheap,” Bradshaw said.

The students spent a total of $850 on the robot which is about the size of a remote control car. It contains two cameras. The first has an arc of about 160 degrees and is located on top of the Rowbot, which can be used to view canopy closure. The second is located at the front of the Rowbot and allows the user to see what the bot sees. It also uses this camera to navigate rows of crops.

“This is a robot that can navigate these rows just like a self-driving car,” Bradshaw said. “Nothing else like this exists in the marketplace.”

Unlike drones, the Rowbot does not need a special license to be operated, Bradshaw said.

He said that they’re still making adjustments to the Rowbot, but he believes that eventually, it is going to make significant difference in the lives of farmers.

A number of other presentations took place during Thursday morning’s tour and included topics such as disease management, weed control, nitrogen management, dry bean breeding and crop response after being cut off from irrigation.

Another tour stop was originally planned to discuss growing mint in western Nebraska, but the crop was so damaged by the hail that organizers decided to skip it.

Recent severe weather made the event tough to plan, organizer Xin Qiao said.

“Our plots are a little bit sad looking, but we have a program for you,” Qiao told the crowd during the event’s opening remarks. “And I’m going to tell you, it’s wonderful.”

Morning keynote speeches were given by University of Nebraska associate vice chancellor Richard Bischoff and Chuck Hibberd, dean of the cooperative extension division at UNL.

Bischoff told the audience that the long drive from Lincoln gave him time to “reflect a lot on what’s been happening here,” including changes in the farm economy, the weather and the canal breach.

“All of those sorts of things ... have demanded a great deal of resiliency,” he said. “Both in terms of the land and the crops, but especially in terms of the human capacity.”

Both Bischoff and Hibberd shared stories about how the extension program came to be. The college is celebrating it’s 150th birthday this year, while the extension program has been doing research and providing education for 110 years.

“That’s really sobering for me, especially as I think about the kinds of things that have happened here in this area,” Bischoff said.

After lunch, there was a keynote by Secretary of State Bob Evnen and presentations regarding water management and the 2018 Farm Bill, as well as a panel discussion about crop management following the canal break.

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Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at kamie.stephen@starherald.com.

Kamie Stephen is a reporter with the Star-Herald. She can be reached at 308-632-9041 or via email at kamie.stephen@starherald.com.

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