When members of the Sutherlin High School FFA, in Sutherlin, Ore., began experimenting with FarmBot, an open-source agricultural robot, their goal was to put it to work in their campus greenhouse.
“We used the technology to talk about things like automation and variable-rate application,” says agricultural education instructor and FFA advisor Wes Crawford.
Funds from Grants for Growing, sponsored by retailer Tractor Supply Co., allowed students to build a 10×20-foot raised bed with tracks for the robot to run along. The robot was programmed to perform tasks like planting, watering and weeding.
“It presented a lot of opportunities for students to learn about CNC [computer numerical controlled] farming, coding and running experiments,” explains Sterling Foster, 17.
Daniel Lyons, a senior, admits that building and troubleshooting the track system proved challenging, but it also provided a chance to work as a team to overcome obstacles.
“The biggest takeaway for me was perseverance,” adds Alyssa McCormick, 17. “Technology comes with a lot of variables. When you get it figured out and you’re able to actually witness it working, it’s really amazing.”
Sutherlin High School FFA set up the FarmBot at the Douglas County Fair in Roseburg, Ore., last summer. The project attracted a lot of attention, allowing students to showcase a unique FFA project and to challenge the views of a traditional agricultural program.
“An ag program is ultimately about production,” Crawford says. “It’s about all of the steps involved, from traditional ag methods to the real-world applications of technology, for things like irrigation and plant nutrition and the teamwork that goes into making it happen.”