New Soil Scientist/Precision Ag Specialist Joins Agronomy

New Soil Scientist/Precision Ag Specialist Joins Agronomy

Welcome to Laila Puntel, a new assistant professor and extension specialist in soil fertility and precision agriculture in the Department of Agronomy and Horticulture.

Laila Puntel
Laila Puntel

Puntel's focus will be on improving efficiency and profitability of soil nutrient management, particularly through the use of precision ag technologies and data-driven tools.

"The long-term goal is to achieve the optimal nutrient application to meet plant needs in every part of the field, regardless of variability."

Precision agriculture has many elements from the hardware and software to how data is cleaned, analyzed, and used to inform decision-making. In many instances, Puntel said, growers already own a variety of data-gathering tools, such as GPS, auto-steer, and yield monitors, but may need more information on how to best apply the information to improve nutrient management efficiency on their farm.

Puntel's research-extension-teaching appointment will encourage conveying research findings to grower application more directly, while also providing grower feedback to help focus research on grower needs. She would like to work with growers interested in conducting on-farm soil fertility research, particularly related to using remote sensing and soil mapping technologies to improve nitrogen recommendations in corn, wheat, and barley. She is also interested in working with farmers to test variable rate technology beyond nutrients, such as varying hybrids, cultivars, and plant density across the field. Growers can contact Puntel at or 402-472-6449.

She also will be conducting trials at several of the university's research and extension centers to evaluate multiple levels of farm data to characterize crop and soil dynamics in irrigated and rainfed systems, all with a goal of improving efficiencies of water and nitrogen use.  She plans to identify gaps in the existing data and current technology to allow better data-driven management decisions, in particular, under extreme weather scenarios. She also plans to study how can we improve the use of crop sensing technology and the effectiveness of various soil nitrogen management strategies.

Puntel is currently working on crop modeling and sensor-based corn nitrogen management and collaborating with the Project SENSE team on their research and demonstrations. This fall she is teaching Site-specific Crop Management and in the spring will teach Spatial Variability in Soils, an online graduate course.

Originally from Buenos Aires province, Argentina, Puntel grew up in a productive corn, soybean, wheat, and barley region. She obtained a Bachelor of Science in agriculture engineering from the National University of Mar del Plata, Buenos Aires, Argentina, and a master's degree and a doctorate in crop production and physiology from Iowa State University.

“Nebraska is an attractive but challenging region in terms of diversity in soils, weather and cropping systems,” she said. “This allows for great opportunities in digital ag technology.”

Between earning a master’s degree and a doctorate, Puntel farmed and co-founded a precision agriculture company in Argentina, called Clarion, where she worked for six years.

“It was exciting to confirm that long-term adoption of precision ag technology, such as varying fertilizer rate or the type of soybean variety used within a field, is possible in conjunction with the use of science, data, core agronomic knowledge and on-farm research,” Puntel said.

In her spare time, Puntel enjoys sports and outdoor activities. She loves playing soccer and tennis with her new friends and colleagues in Lincoln.

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A field of corn.