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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Columbia, Missouri » Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research » People » Kenneth Sudduth

Kenneth A Sudduth (Ken)

Supervisory Agricultural Engineer


Dr. Sudduth has been a Research Agricultural Engineer with ARS in Columbia for over 30 years and has been Research Leader of the Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research Unit since early 2021. His research focuses on solving high-priority problems within the broad context of precision agriculture to address soil and landscape variability and optimize production, economic return, and environmental quality of agricultural systems. In personal and team research, Dr. Sudduth works to develop decision support tools, including advanced sensor technology, for on-farm implementation of sustainable and resilient cropping systems and participate in the evaluation of such systems.

 Dr. Sudduth received his BS and MS from the University of Missouri, and his PhD from the University of Illinois, all in Agricultural Engineering. Prior to joining ARS, he spent four years as a hydraulic engineer at the John Deere Product Engineering Center in Iowa. Over the years, he has been active in numerous professional societies, including serving as the 2014-2016 President of the International Society of Precision Agriculture.

Soil and crop sensor development and application has been the major emphasis of his research in ARS. In the late 1980s, his research was the first to combine near-infrared reflectance (NIR) spectroscopy and chemometric techniques to measure soil properties, including soil moisture and organic matter content. Later research was some of the first to evaluate in-situ optical sensors, with a focus on sensing soil health parameters. Along with colleagues, he was also instrumental in developing the knowledge needed to support soil electrical conductivity (ECa) sensing, which is now the most used precision agriculture soil sensing practice worldwide.


My research
My research applies engineering technology to address soil and landscape variability and optimize production, economic return, and environmental quality of agricultural systems. The main focus is on improving data collection and decision support tools for precision agriculture systems, and then participating in the evaluation of the systems. I also work with other Unit scientists on automation and data collection challenges they face answering their research questions. Some of my current research activities include:

Why I’m doing this research 
Farmers intuitively recognize the validity of precision (or digital) agriculture – do the right thing, at the right place, at the right time, and in the right amount. They now have commercial tools available to collect data and to control machines for variable-rate application. In many cases, what’s lacking are the research-based decision support systems that can turn the collected data into actionable information, and then into profitable and environmentally sustainable decisions that can be applied in the field.

How my research is conducted
Over the years, we’ve worked on many aspects of technology development and application for precision agriculture, including grain crop yield mapping and digital sensing of soil and crop properties. We’ve also developed aids to decision making, such as software to remove bad data from yield maps, methods for creating management zones, and algorithms for sensor-based, variable-rate nitrogen application. Much of this research has been in cooperation with other scientists from CSWQ, the University of Missouri, other ARS and university locations, and industry.

Notable findings