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Partnership Aims to Boost Precision Ag Efforts
Kansas Ag Connection - 10/09/2018

Officials say that a partnership between Kansas State University and a global company that provides precision agriculture technology is likely to benefit farmers in the state and across the country.

Several company representatives from Topcon Agriculture were in Manhattan to announce that they have established an office in the K-State Office Park, located next to the KSU Foundation on the north side of campus.

Fabio Isaia, the company's chief executive officer, noted that the partnership includes conducting research and innovations that farmers want to use; opportunities for K-State faculty and students to work with new technologies; and interacting with farmers through the state's extension service.

Isaia noted that Topcon has similar agreements with universities in Europe, China, the United Kingdom, Moscow, Tokyo and Italy, "but none of these have the extent and the depth of what we're trying to develop here."

"We believe this is going to be different, not just because we are in the heart of the agricultural business in North America, but because this is Kansas," Isaia said. "Due to weather conditions and soil variability, Kansas is the place where we can develop studies and validate our solutions on so many crops that we will be able to utilize not only in North America, but all over the world."

Brian Sorbe, Topcon's vice president of sales and marketing in North America, called his company the "new kids on the block" in precision agriculture.

"But over the past 12 years, we have built a very robust catalog of technology solutions for farmers," he said, noting that the company has other university partners which have strengths in field management, animal science or other specific areas. "When we came to K-State, it really has a nice meld of all of those things. We wanted to be part of this atmosphere which is already rooted deep in ag DNA, as we call it."

Ajay Sharda, an assistant professor of biological and agricultural engineering at K-State, said the partnership will include work with such precision technologies as crop sensors, rate controllers, GPS technologies and more.

"(K-State faculty) have come a long ways in precision agriculture over the last four to five years," Sharda said. "We have a great start to our research program with numerous collaborative research projects with multiple industry partners. We are continuously getting newer opportunities to work on more relevant and high impact projects both from industry and federal agencies."

Sharda noted that he doesn't expect Topcon to be the last precision agriculture company to find a home at K-State: "This will ultimately start to put ourselves in the lead to establish similar (partnerships) with other industry partners to realize what we have envisioned of a research park on the K-State campus."

Topcon's Manhattan office will include a lab and classroom in which K-State faculty and students will conduct research with many of the newest technologies that the company has to offer. The company is also donating equipment and technology to the university's Agronomy North Farm.

"What it really represents for us is an intersection between academia and innovation within our organization," said Jared Ochs, Topcon's customer support manager. "But we also want the university to gain some key components. We have worked with department heads to inject new things into curriculum that will give students a leg up in their careers and against other schools that offer precision agriculture."

Topcon Agriculture is a division of the Topcon Positioning Group, which has its U.S. headquarters in Livermore, California. The global headquarters for Topcon Agriculture is in Turin, Italy. The company expects to have 20 employees in its Manhattan office.

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