UT AgResearch Announces New Precision Livestock Farming Initiative

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New Research Unit Named for UTIA Supporter Waymon Hickman

SPRING HILL, Tenn. — It’s no secret that Tennessee farmers and agricultural industries across the state are invested in livestock production, particularly beef cattle, as well as poultry. To help them keep pace with the changing technologies involved, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture has dedicated a new research and extension initiative: UT Precision Livestock Farming.

Coordinated by Robert Burns, distinguished professor in the Department of Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science, the UT Precision Livestock Farming program includes nearly two dozen UTIA faculty members across several academic disciplines. It will advance livestock and poultry production through the application of existing and emerging technologies to improve the management of animals within modern production systems. Research efforts will include real-time monitoring of images, sounds and other biological, physiological and environmental parameters to assess and improve individual animal health and well-being within herd or flock production systems, ultimately enhance production sustainability. An animal’s  environment, housing systems, feeding and watering systems, manure storage and collection, lighting and other production system components all fall under the precision farming “umbrella.”  

Farmers, economists and other interested parties will find several livestock and poultry projects that were already ongoing easy to review at the UT Precision Livestock Farming website: plf.tennessee.edu. Future projects will also be posted on the website as news becomes available.

In April, UT AgResearch announced the realignment of capabilities at two of its ten AgResearch and Education Centers to better support the state’s dairy, beef and poultry industries. The Little River Animal Environment Unit of the East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center near Knoxville is upgrading its dairy research capabilities, and the Middle Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Spring Hill is refocusing its facilities to support beef and poultry production research. Now, UT leaders are announcing that the Precision Agriculture Technology Unit at the Middle Tennessee AgResearch Center has been named for Columbia, Tennessee, retired business executive and philanthropist Waymon Hickman, an alumnus of the now-named UT Herbert College of Agriculture, former member of the UT Board of Trustees and longtime supporter of UTIA.

Hickman, with family members gathered by his side, was surprised by the gesture during the July 22 meeting of the UT Commission on Agriculture, which occurred at the Middle Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center in Spring Hill. Everyone on hand was pleased to honor Hickman for his leadership and dedication to Tennessee agriculture. UT President Randy Boyd made the announcement while a mockup of the outdoor sign was unveiled.

Hickman seemed pleased as well, saying, “The University of Tennessee, especially the UT Institute of Agriculture, has long been a passion of mine. This naming is an honor for me, and I am humbled by it.”

The actual sign was installed at the center’s main entrance along TN Highway 31 the next day.

Hickman Unit sign
The new sign at the entrance to the Middle Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center at Spring Hill. Photo by K. Thompson, courtesy UTIA.

Kevin Thompson, director of the Middle Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center, looks forward to the challenges of the new research direction. “Investment in precision animal agriculture such as smart waterers and feeders, to monitor animal health, reproduction, nutrition and behavior of individual animals within groups will directly support Tennessee agricultural enterprises,” he says. “I look forward to realigning the center’s efforts to better support the industry as a whole.”

Through its land-grant mission of research, teaching and extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and provides Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.

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Robert Burns, Biosystems Engineering and Soil Science

Kevin Thompson, Middle Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center