A Tribute to Pierre C. Robert

This tribute was adapted from an excerpt from the 7th International Conference on Precision Agriculture, authored by Dick Rust and Jerry Nielsen. The 7th ICPA was a commemoration to Pierre and his efforts in the area of precision agriculture.

pierre_ecpa_2003This expression of gratitude, respect and admiration for Pierre Robert enumerates his roles, and the work that was accomplished through Pierre, in the advances of Precision Agriculture since 1990. 

The following roles were among 54 reported for Pierre on a single page, published in the Soil Science Society of America Journal, following his election as Fellow of the Society in 2003. Beginning with roles cited most often we see such terms as professor, outreach, extension, research, teacher, educator, scientist, initiator, developer, creator, collaborator, director, pioneer, evaluator, manager, maintainer, leader, server, organizer, traveler, editor, chair, editor-in-chief. The following details about Pierre’s work are drawn heavily from fellowship nomination documents for Pierre, and on other University of Minnesota records and personal experiences with Pierre.

Pierre has served unofficially as the international leader for Precision Agriculture extension education. He co-organized six International Conferences on Precision Agriculture, all held in Minneapolis, MN, from 1990 to 2002. These conferences have been the major authoritative source of information about Precision Agriculture’s state-of-the-art. Pierre co-edited the conference proceedings. His service grew over the years, as did the numbers of participants and pages of proceedings. Beginning with 150 people and 400 pages in 1990, the proceedings grew to nearly 2000 pages published in two volumes. By the year 2000, the proceedings were too long to publish in paper form, and a CD was issued instead. Some 700 participants from the academic and agribusiness sectors, and from 40 counties, attended the conference in 2000.

pierre_pac_gradstudentsPierre with a group of graduate students and Dr. Paul Bloom in the Precision Agriculture Center.

In 1992, Pierre established the first statewide extension program dealing with Precision Agriculture. He organized multiple workshops, field demonstrations, and on-farm experiments. In1995, he also created the first successful Precision Agriculture Center, a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the agribusiness sector. These two efforts had a large impact on the adoption of Precision Agriculture in the state and nation wide. Nearly all sugar beet farmers in Minnesota now use grid sampling to determine nitrogen fertilizer requirements.

pierre_soilsamplePierre was a pioneering leader in research on precision agriculture. He helped coin the term “Farming by Soil” in 1983 in partnership with SoilTeq, and made advances in research on soil variability, site-specific nutrient and herbicide management, variable rate seeding, grain quality, and tillage. This research was funded at over $7 million, including a prestigious $3.8 million grant from Fund for Rural America for a Precision Agriculture Consortium that included Minnesota, South Dakota, Montana, and Georgia. Pierre was the first to develop and test a soil-map-based approach for variable rate fertilizer spreading. He conducted some of the earliest research showing:

  1. the impacts of variable rate nitrogen fertilizer application on corn grain quality and
  2. that spatially variable applications of herbicides could improve water quality without compromising weed control.

pierre_sydney_1997Pierre’s reputation in Precision Agriculture research is international. He was invited to talk about his research all over the world. He gave presentations in California, Michigan, New York, Montana, Georgia, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Raleigh, Seattle, Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Des Moines, Champaign, Charlotte, New Orleans, Fort Collins, St. Louis, Chicago, Anaheim, Washington D.C., Denver, Indianapolis, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Holland, France, Belgium, Australia, England, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Morocco, Brazil, Denmark, China, South Africa, Japan, and Cuba. Pierre was often the keynote speaker.

pierre_2001Pierre speaking about precision agriculture in China (2001).

Pierre served the Precision Agriculture community in substantial ways. He was the originator and Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal on Advances in Precision Agriculture. In this capacity, he processed the reviews of about 30 papers each year for over 5 years. This was in addition to his editorial role in alternate years for the Proceedings of the International Conference on Precision Agriculture, described earlier.

pierre_johnstaffordPierre provided informal training on Precision Agriculture for many international visitors. He hosted visiting scientists on 64 occasions. These visitors were from Australia, Morocco, France, Germany, England, Belgium, Poland, Holland, Italy, Brazil, China, Sweden, Hungary, South Africa, Indonesia, Japan, Argentina, and Thailand. He shared information generously as a respected builder of the precision agriculture world community.

Pierre was tireless in his efforts to study and promote Precision Agriculture, starting his work day six days a week at 6 am, and often staying until 6 pm. He was truly a pioneer in his research and extension efforts, and has made a major impact on our understanding and management of soil spatial variability.

The authors of this excerpt also shared the following personal memories of Pierre:

I am grateful for the time he spent in Montana collaborating with Dan Long and me. I admired his energy and humor. After a day’s hard work on Precision Agriculture Consortium ideas, we rode mountain bikes 20 miles across the Sourdough-Hyalite divide. Near the top, he realized he had confused my story about a “bear” in the forest with his anticipation for finding a “bar” there. His energy level and good humor sagged a bit. For a good time, he urged me to try black beer and mussels in a bar in Brussels. I did. He was right. I also respect the way Pierre was quick to make connections with people. After eating most of Helen’s half-pound Awful Bison Burger at Gardiner, Montana, near Yellowstone Park, Pierre connected with old Helen herself as she flipped burgers, a cigarette hanging from her lips over the grill. Pierre flew back to Minneapolis with 10 pounds of Helen’s ground bison in his luggage and she remembered him for years.



pierre_statefairPierre promoting precision agriculture at the Minnesota State Fair.
pierre_4th_ecpa_2003-06-18Jose Hernandez, David Mulla, Pierre, and Siva Balasundram at the 4th ECPA in Berlin (18 June 2003).
pierre_japan_helicopterPierre checking out a Yanmar helicopter in Japan (2001).
Pierre flying the Yanmar helicopter in Japan (2001).
pierre_chinaPierre on a field trip in China (2002).
pierre_bell_moroccan_restaurantPierre and Dr. Jay Bell at a Moroccan restaurant (1998).
pierre_pa_students_staffPierre with a group of precision agriculture students and staff at a restaurant (2002).
pierre_vanacht_imperialpalace_2001Pierre and Marc Vanacht at the Imperial Palace in Japan (2001).
pierre_growerlearninggroupPierre with the "Grower Learning Group" in Crookston, MN.
pierre_mast_students2Pierre with a group of MAST students in Crookston, MN.
pierre_brotherinlaw_belgiumPierre relaxing with his brother-in-law in Belgium.