As manager of the agronomy farm, the college’s largest field research facility, Scott Harkcom and his staff work more than 600 acres and manage the agronomic crops on the Ag Progress Days site. He has four full-time employees and farm equipment ranging from a small garden tractor to a six-row combine capable of harvesting a 40-acre field. “A lot of large tractors and combines are useless in our smaller plots,” he says. “However, we like to use equipment similar to that used by the average Pennsylvania farmer to get as close to their experience as possible.”
Harkcom lives on the agronomy farm, renting one of the property’s original farmhouses from the University. He and his crew have specialties—one person does most of the fertilizer applications, another does all of the corn planting—but all employees find themselves doing a variety of jobs. After receiving faculty requests for land allotments, Harkcom sits down with field maps, soil test reports, and his computer database to meet each specific crop research request. Harkcom also is in charge of marketing all crops produced on the farm. About 50 percent of the farm’s output goes to the dairy and animal science department, and Harkcom sells the rest on the open market to help defray operating expenses.
“We set up 50 to 60 separate research projects each year,” Harkcom says. “One of our biggest challenges is preventing wind drift during herbicide applications. If we spray on a windy day, drift really can damage other research plots.” The agronomy farm also is the site of a long-term crop rotation experiment that has examined the effects of different crop rotations on soil fertility for the past 30 years. Harkcom and his crew do all the necessary field work and data analysis for that project.