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Begin With
South Carolina 

Kendall Kirk is a precision agriculture engineer at Clemson’s Edisto Research and Education Center. That means he’s employed by Clemson University. But if you ask him, he really works for the people of South Carolina, namely its farmers, developing new technologies and teaching young and old alike to use them so they can farm more efficiently, be more profitable and employ more sustainable practices on their land.

See how Clemson University works with
South Carolina's farmers
See how Clemson University works with South Carolina's farmers
A field of crops with a treeline in the background all under a cloudy sky. Kendall Kirk stands in front of a field of crops with a treeline in the background.
Kendall Kirk stands in front of a field of crops with a treeline in the background.
Kendall Kirk sits in a backstage video area speaking to the camera. Kendall Kirk sits in a backstage video area speaking to the camera.


Begin with South Carolina

Good farming
is good business

Clemson professor Kendall Kirk considers himself as much a lifelong learner as he does a professional educator. And for nearly three decades, the subject of both his instruction and his inquiry has been the same: farming.

Kirk serves as a precision agriculture engineer for Clemson, and he is director of the University’s new Center for Agricultural Technology, CU-CAT. Both his engineering expertise and his director role support South Carolina’s farmers through similar methods: outreach, education and the development of new technology.

Kendall Kirk and three students are in a field of crops standing next to a pickup truck. The three students are leaning against the bed of the truck as Kendall Kirk explains something to them.

Kirk connects farmers with new technology that provides concrete answers where estimates once had to suffice. The goal of his collaborations is simple: stronger farms and more sustainable farming practices to feed a growing state and world.

“We have an opportunity to work with farmers to investigate new technologies and help them learn new technologies that they might not have even been aware of.”

Farming: An outdoor job

The bulk of Kirk’s work has always happened outside the confines of a traditional classroom. A three-time Clemson grad, he remains a teacher at heart, even leading Boy Scout activities and Sunday school classes in his spare time.

Kendall Kirk is driving a tractor through a field of crops with a tall forest treeline in the background.
Kendall Kirk and three students are in a field of crops standing next to a pickup truck. The three students are leaning against the bed of the truck as Kendall Kirk explains something to them.

Kirk’s role has him based out of the University’s Edisto Research and Education Center, which is located in South Carolina’s coastal plain. The Edisto REC has more than 2,300 acres of row crop, pasture and forest land. The REC, along with hundreds of thousands of acres of South Carolina farmland, is Kirk’s classroom, lab and conference room because it’s here that he’s forging solutions. He works with farmers and for them so that future generations can feed the state and the world sustainably and economically.

Did you know?

Scientists at the Edisto Research and Education Center (REC) located in Barnwell County have conducted research on agricultural production practices since 1937. Today, the main research focus at Edisto REC is precision agriculture, where temporal and spatial data are used to drive agricultural management decisions.

More Than19K
Educational programs and workshops
conducted annually
More Than46K
4-H members
Serving the people of
South Carolina

Clemson’s Edisto REC supports these vital agricultural disciplines for the state’s farmers:

  • - Entomology.
  • - Weed science.
  • - Soil fertility.
  • - Agricultural technologies.
Clemson Extension offices, one in every
South Carolina country
More Than85K
Participants in educational programs and workshops

Modern tools
for modern farmers

It’s in everyone’s best interest to keep South Carolina’s farms profitable and viable, Kirk explains. That’s why Clemson works so closely with the state’s farmers — both at its RECs and via its Extension offices, which are located in all 46 South Carolina counties.

As director of CU-CAT, Kirk builds collaborative relationships between industry and academia to forge farming solutions before they become problems. Everything from rising fertilizer costs to water shortages and increasing competition is being addressed by new technology developed through CU-CAT.

“I think if we learn to collaborate and work together on developing and addressing solutions, that those solutions will come much faster.”

Educating farmers for life, success

Raised in the suburbs of South Carolina’s capital city, Kirk grew up knowing relatively little about farming. He saw what happened in his family’s backyard garden and learned about growing zones and other farming basics while cultivating the occasional food plot in preparation for deer season.

It’s not lost on him how far he’s come over the past three decades. He’s a key part of a precision agriculture program at Clemson that is pioneering innovative farming practices designed to make South Carolina agriculture competitive with the world.

Kendall Kirk explains something to a farmer while showing him something on an tablet.
At a farm Kendall Kirk is kneeling down on the ground and showing two farmers how a piece of technology works.

As an undergraduate at Clemson, Kirk had never given much thought to a career in agriculture. Instead, he planned to pursue law and thought he’d like to become an intellectual property attorney. Inspirational faculty mentors and a graduate assistantship at the University’s fish farm, followed by research on designing and developing control systems in aquaculture, paved the way for his work today.

Today, in addition to visiting farmers and connecting with the state’s Extension agents, Kirk teaches primarily nontraditional graduate students how to work smarter, not harder, on the farm. About 80 percent of his graduate students are what Kirk describes as “homegrown ag mechanics.” They know how to run a tractor and drive a four-wheeler; they can turn a wrench, operate a welder, and understand the workings of the machinery, electrical, and pumping systems.

He teaches these students to navigate statistical analysis methods; how to use computers to collect data in the field; to explore spatial information with GIS applications; instruction on electrical control systems; and agricultural engineering design.

And then, Kirk, his colleagues and their respective students — in partnership with farmers across South Carolina — collect data so they can grow knowledge beyond the classroom. Everything from plant height and nitrogen levels in leaf tissue to how much water different sprinkler heads distribute in a field and the optimal speed of peanut-digging and cotton-harvesting machines has a place in their research. Clemson gathers and sorts that information the way farmers cull their crops, pairing the healthiest data findings with researchers’ boots-on-the-ground experiences to provide answers.

Three students sit at a table with Kendall Kirk. They are all inspecting a drone inside of a office.
Kendall Kirk shakes hands with a farmer with a house in the background.

One result of that research has been the development of Clemson’s precision agriculture web applications. These apps, which have almost 10,000 monthly views and are reaching the state’s farmers in growing numbers, make easier, more informed work of the complex formulas that farmers have navigated for generations. This now helps them more reliably do things like:

  • - Provide proper feed nutrition to their livestock.
  • - Calculate the proper rates for fertilizer blends and other crop inputs.
  • - Improve management of irrigation and fertigation practices.
  • - Optimize the moisture content of stored grain for better drying and storage outcomes.

“Working with Extension and outreach provides the ability to help people. I believe that we all have gifts given to us, and our purpose is to share those gifts to benefit others.”

A close up of someone's hands. They have broken up a nut or seed and are showing the contents on the inside.

Clemson University’s precision agriculture research is laying the groundwork for faster, better, more reliable farming technology for the state’s 4.8 million acres of farmland.

As important, it’s directly helping men and women who farm. They are, Kirk says, “humanity’s greatest stewards of the land and its resources.”

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