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Machinery systems engineer retires


FIELD TOUR—UNL Machinery Systems Engineer John Smith speaks at a research plot during a recent dry bean field tour at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center. (PREC photo.)

In his three decades as machinery systems engineer at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center, John Smith has seen farm equipment get bigger--from six rows to 24--and more high-tech--now some implements are steered precisely by satellite guidance.

But for Smith, it is not the equipment, but the people he has worked for and with, that he will remember most.

Smith retired at the end of June after a 30-year career with UNL in the Panhandle, during which he worked with machinery manufacturers, farmers, commodity groups and his peers at UNL to improve farm machinery systems for field production of crops, particularly tillage, planting, and harvesting systems for sugarbeets and dry edible beans, two of western Nebraska's major irrigated crops.

He has been involved in several key projects. In sugarbeet production, he has worked on transplanting, helped develop improvements in planters, and conducted planter testing clinics. For dry edible beans, Smith has worked on adjustments and accessories for combines to improve harvest quality, as well as working toward direct harvest of dry beans.

Direct harvest of dry beans--a one-step process in which the beans are combined directly while standing in the field, rather than first undercut and left in windrows, which are then combined--is used widely in other bean-growing regions, but rarely in western Nebraska. It has the potential to make bean harvest more "user friendly" and to reduce input costs, including labor, fuel, and combine repairs caused by soil attached to the plant roots.

In his 30 years, Smith has seen all equipment get larger: tractors, combines, planters, and tillage equipment. They have more electronics, hydraulics, monitors and sensors. It is better, in that there is less field loss, better crop stands, and better quality.

Looking ahead, Smith said ag in this region has some unique opportunities, as long as regional or industry goals can be kept ahead of individual goals, especially with dry beans and sugarbeets. He believes that producers, as well as industry leaders, must continue to study and visit other production areas of the United States and the world to stay competitive. This region now competes with producers and organizations on a global level, not with other producers in the Panhandle.

"We need people to think, dream, inquire, take chances--carefully," he said.

Investing in the future is important, including planning and infrastructure. And opportunities to grow existing infrastructure need to be taken advantage of, Smith said.

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