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Changes in agriculture over 70-plus years

Courtesy Jim Beaty Jim Beaty and Ozzie Luetkemeier
2 LEADERS IN OVER 70 YEARS: Until Jim Beaty (left) retired recently, only he and the late Ozzie Luetkemeier (right) had served as superintendents at the Purdue Agronomy Farm.
Purdue’s Jim Beaty reflects on changes as he retires as Agronomy Farm superintendent.

The Purdue University Agronomy Center for Recreation and Education has had three name changes but only two superintendents since it was established as the Purdue University Agronomy Farm in 1949. The late Ozzie Luetkemeier was the first superintendent, and he handed the torch to Jim Beaty in 1986. Beaty held the post until he retired at the beginning of 2021.

That means these two men saw 70-plus years of change in agriculture and maintained a facility for researchers at the cutting edge of those changes. Luetkemeier passed away in 2010. Recently, Beaty shared changes he has seen in agriculture through his role as superintendent.

Carl EicheOzzie Luetkemeier and Jim Beaty

CHANGING OF GUARD: The late Ozzie Luetkemeier (left) was superintendent at the Purdue Agronomy Farm from 1949 until 1986, when Jim Beaty (right) took the reins.

“One of the biggest was the use of computers in agriculture,” Beaty says. He started his career in Extension as the Pulaski County Extension ag educator in 1978. “Harold Reetz, the corn specialist before Bob Nielsen, had a 16K computer when I was an agent,” Beaty recalls. “Later, Purdue equipped some agents with Compaq computers so they could run financial programs in the Better Farming/Better Living program in the 1980s. Commodore 64 computers were showing up on farms then, too.”

By the time Beaty retired, tons of data streamed daily from the Indiana Corn and Soybean Innovation Center at ACRE, collected with drones and other sensory devices, to campus for analysis.

Change over time

Large Area Remote Sensing by satellite was in its infancy when Beaty took over from Luetkemeier in 1986. “Today we’ve got drones collecting not only pictures but digital data at the farm all the time during the growing season,” Beaty says. “The technology for some of those functions was developed here at ACRE. They produce data in terabytes. It’s a far cry from what Harold could do with his 16K computer 40 years ago.”

Being part of these changes was exciting, Beaty says. “One thing that hasn’t changed is that as superintendent, your whole family was involved, and had to be committed to the role,” Beaty says. “Ozzie and Louise raised their kids on site here before us, and Jan and I raised our family here. The whole family became involved at one time or another, and they saw changes as well. I could not have done what I did without the support of my family.”

Part of Beaty’s role was working with specialists and researchers who utilized the farm. “Don Griffith, an agronomist then, held lots of meetings for farmers here, even when Ozzie was still here,” Beaty says. “The ridge-till technology never caught on, although no-till and reduced tillage did. But those meetings brought different kinds of people here and were evidence that change was under way in farming practices.”

Beaty recalls being on the leading edge of technology sometimes. “One of the first years we had a yield monitor, we didn’t have GPS,” he recalls. “I rode in the combine on some fields and recorded data. We used dead reckoning to create crude yield maps. They’re nothing like the more accurate maps we have today, but it was a big deal back then. It was a way to get started.”

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