“If I look back on the last seven generations of my family, we have been engaged in various aspects of farming,” started Dr. Raj Khosla, professor of precision agriculture at CSU. “Our family went through some very rough times. My mother made sure that education was the highest priority to overcome the hardship that they endured. When I was in the 4th grade, I won the first-place prize in the school’s science fair. As a reward, all the winners were taken to the local radio station where there was a live science program that we got to participate in. Influenced by the two kids who were hosting the program, I said, ‘I want to do this!’ I went through the audition process, got permission from my school – and my parents – and I got the part”
Khosla started his science radio stardom in the 5th grade and remained a part of the science program for the next 10 years (save for two years when his voice was changing). “Doing that kept me focused on science. One thing tapped into another – the rest is history.”
Beginning his academic career in India, Khosla attended the University of Allahabad in Allahabad, India. By his sophomore year as an undergraduate, Khosla’s professors were encouraging him to think about graduate school.
“My professors were saying, ‘Hey, you should apply to these institutions, and all of them were in the United States,” remembers Khosla. “I applied to several, and I ended up attending Virginia Tech. During this time, I had offers from other institutions, but I liked what I was doing, and I was working in an area which no one had ever heard of before–in the early ’90s very few people in ag science understood what precision agriculture was, so I was on the forefront of that discipline.”
Khosla’s work and research is centered on precision agriculture, a practice he sums up in five ‘R’s: The right input, at the right time, in the right place, at the right amount, and in the right manner.
“The thing is, for you to embrace those 5 ‘R’s you must collect a tremendous amount of data,” says Khosla. “You can only manage what you can measure. Our farmers in North America have done a phenomenal job at increasing productivity of land over the last 150 years. We know how to grow, so the question is not ‘how to grow’ but it’s ‘how do we grow more with less?’ That’s where the challenge is.”
The truth of Khosla’s work is that agriculture is changing dramatically, and it has been in a shifting state over the last three decades. “If you look across landscapes, you will see a lot of variability,” says Dr. Khosla, “Farmers knew about [the variability], but they didn’t have the tools to do anything about it. In the mid-late ’80s, the idea was that if GPS becomes available for civil uses and eventually trickles down to ag, what can we do with it? It allowed us to map the variability and bring down the technology to manage that variability. That is exactly what my lab has done.”
While precision agriculture is a young science, the benefits of highly measured farming practices can have big payoffs for farmers and the environment. Using data from Khosla’s lab on precision nitrogen management, colleagues at the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL) at CSU determined through simulation modeling, that compared to the traditional uniform practices, precision nitrogen management reduces N2O emissions by 50% or more,” says Khosla.
Dr. Khosla also merits precision agriculture will play a huge role in feeding our soon-to-be 9 billion population.
Profile written by Linc Thomas.