Nutrien Ag Solutions' Champaign Innovation Farm hosts local student's award-winning FFA project

Posted February 22nd, 2024

Read to learn more about Avery's project, how the Champaign Innovation Farm has supported her throughout her research, and how the collaboration between Avery and Nutrien Ag Solutions is going to continue.

In spring 2023, Thaddeus Bates met with Rich McCabe, the FFA Advisor at Unity High School, to present information about the Nutrien Ag Solutions Innovation Farm in Champaign, Illinois. During that time, he offered a 27-acre block for the FFA students to use for projects during the 2023 growing season. One student, Avery Watson, a junior in high school, jumped at the chance to use the land for her project comparing a high technology planter to a basic planter.

“The team at the Champaign Innovation Farm embraced having me there, which gave me a first-hand experience in agriculture research. It is something that is very hard to teach in a classroom and is more beneficial if taught hands-on,” says Avery.

The corn plot was planted with a John Deere 1760 equipped with Precision Planting updates and a John Deere 7000. Avery ran an emergence flag test, helping her determine a difference in planters. She also continued to monitor population counts throughout the growing season. In August 2023, Avery took her project to the Illinois State Fair and won the crop innovation division.

“The Innovation Farm team did an incredible job explaining why things are the way they are, how things work, and what the next step would be. For example, they explained why the depth setting was set that way, they showed me how the technology on the new planter worked compared to the old one, and they also made sure to walk me through what planting, the growing season, and harvest would look like,” says Avery.

As we all know, agriculture is unpredictable, and Avery’s project was not immune to the challenges presented by mother nature. Adverse planting conditions and a dry spring were two areas she had to work around, but Avery hopes to replicate her trial in the 2024 growing season to continue to collect data. Avery’s parents, Adam and Anne Watson, were enthusiastic about the experience working with the farm provided during this project.

“Nutrien has supported Avery throughout the entire process in many areas including agronomic information, field operations, data analysis and presentation,” says Adam and Anne.

The Innovation Farm network has made it a priority to connect with their communities, including youth programs such as the National FFA Association. Nutrien Ag Solutions hopes to replicate the partnership with FFA students and the innovation farms across the five farms currently in the network. For the Champaign Innovation Farm, they are excited to welcome Avery back in 2024, hopefully with some of her Unity FFA chapter members as well.

“Youth is our future we need to embrace the skill sets they are growing up with and the changes they will see in 10 years will be the same as the advancements most growers see in a lifetime,” says Thaddeus Bates, Senior Manager of Nutrien Ag Solutions’ Innovation Farms.

As a continuance of her collaboration with the Champaign Innovation Farm, Avery has taken a leadership role as our first Student Ambassador for Nutrien Ag Solutions to aid in providing feedback from the next generation.

About the Champaign, IL Innovation Farm and Nutrien Ag Solutions’ Innovation Farm Network

The 282-acre Innovation Farm in Champaign was purchased in 2019 and is part of a network of farms where the goal is to engage and collaborate with suppliers and growers on innovative technologies, products and solutions, equipment, and farm management practices at scale.

When the farm was purchased, the land was not in terrific condition, but that worked in the team’s favor, because the point of the farm is to demonstrate the value of agricultural solutions for improving land, yields and sustainable outcomes.

“At the Innovation Farm, we’re practicing at the scale of farming with equipment, practices and products that would be used on customer farms,” says Paul Bonnett, Senior Director of Agronomy & Environmental Sciences (AES). “This allows us to train our crop consultants from the technologies on the farm so they can apply it out in the field with their customers.”

Nutrien Ag Solutions has five innovation farms spread throughout the US in Champaign, IL; Hopkinsville, KY; Owensboro, KY; Winterville, Mississippi; and Selma, California.

“The cool part about what we’re doing at our innovation and research farms is that we’re the hub for all these suppliers, which allows us to be the Rubik’s cube to show our agronomists combinations that growers would actually use on their fields,” says Thaddeus. “We can test products before they go to market and with this information, it gives our agronomists confidence and as a result, gives our growers confidence in the solutions they’re using on their fields.”

About Nutrien's partnership with FFA

Nutrien has been a proud partner of FFA for over 46 years. With Nutrien’s commitment to supporting youth in agriculture and the wide network of FFA alumni working at Nutrien, employees have the option to be part of an internal FFA Alumni Committee. The committee works to find opportunities to connect with local FFA chapters, find judging opportunities for employees to participate in, and serve as brand representatives at national and state FFA conventions.

If you are interested in becoming part of the FFA Alumni Committee, please reach out to Chrissy Ferraro,

This year’s National FFA Week runs from Sunday, February 17, to Saturday, February 24. Just a reminder, one way to support students like Avery is to participate in Give FFA Day, which is Thursday February 22. To receive the Nutrien Employee Match on your Give FFA Day donation, please use the Grow our Community link.


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