Visitors to the recent agBot Challenge held in early May at Gerrish Farms in Rockville, Ind., got a rare peek into the future of agriculture and came away with a better understanding of the challenges facing growers today.

The May 6 NexGen Day was a wildly successful event according to organizer Rachel Gerrish. “It went well beyond even our expectations as far as the number of interested students we were able to impact,” she said.

Over a thousand middle and high school students from around the midwest visited Gerrish Farms to engage in an interactive learning environment.

“Unlike many field trips to farms, this day included lessons in robotics, engineering, software development, technology, botany and aquaculture,” Gerrish explained. “Farming encompasses many different industries and sciences, we wanted to encourage groups to think about the future of the industry.”

The students and other visitors also got to watch the “botters” in action. Five of the teams who had taken on the agBot Challenge were on hand to show off their entries. On site were examples of each team’s efforts to come up with an unmanned, “robotic” planter, able to follow programmed coordinates through a field while planting seeds and sending real-time information back to the computer.

Team members from Purdue/South Newton High School, IUPUI, University of Regina, Muchowski Farms and Pee Dee Precision Ag tweaked their entries while engaging the crowds and giving attendees up-close access to their inventions.

“This was a wonderful opportunity for our visitors to see some of the other options for careers in agriculture,” said event host Steve Gerrish of Gerrish Farms and CEO of AirBridge, LLC. “Successful farming today is very different from how it was when our grandparents were working this land. We have to be looking at innovations for the future now.”

Visitors to the weekend event were also greeted by exhibits by Monsanto, John Deere and Yamaha, among other sponsors, who shared even more looks into advanced technology systems being applied in the agriculture industry.

One of the hosts to the event, AirBridge, LLC is a company working to bring high-speed internet to the underserved rural areas of the world. They provided the connectivity to the fields during the contest that allowed the agBots to communicate with their teams.

“Connected rural areas will allow the farmers to embrace automation and robotics,” said Steve Gerrish. “This will allow farmers to remain competitive in world agriculture.”

Day two of the event saw team supporters, sponsors, industry leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs gather to watch the five teams present their agBOT Challenge 2016 work. “It all starts with a challenge,” said Mark Young, CTO Climate Corp. as he opened the inaugural event.

Young addressed the crowd and teams with a speech supporting the aspirations of the event and innovations of the teams.

Presentations from the teams were led by Jerry Martin for PeeDee Precision Ag; Dr. Andres Tovar for IUPUI; Dr Denver Lopp (Purdue) and Drake Babcock (South Newton) for Purdue/South Newton; Sam Dietrich for University of Regina; and Nathan Muchowski for Muchowski Farms.

Each of the teams provided a presentation with details of their work and revealed components of their machines. Judges Craig Rupp with Climate Corp., Bill Thompson with Thompson Farms, Bob Peterson with BATS, and George Kellerman with Yamaha Motors spent individual time with each of the teams reviewing the machines after presentations.

After deliberation, judges named Sam Dietrich, Caleb Friedrick, Joshua Friedrick and Dean Kentai with the University of Regina as the agBOT Challenge 2016 Champions. The team was awarded $50,000 for their first-place finish.The Purdue/South Newton team received second place taking home $30,000 while third place was a tie between PeeDee Precision Ag and Muchowski Farms, each taking home $10,000.

For more information about the 2016 agBot challenge, visit