Computerized sensors, automatic sprayers, and even one day, driverless, GPS-guided tractors might seem pretty realistic in the world of precision agriculture. But a researcher in Texas is looking to take the technology to the next level. In this article from Texas A&M, Dr. Alex Thomasson, an agricultural engineer for the school, says he wants to develop sensors and computer hardware and software that can evaluate the status of individual plants in real time, as the tractor moves across a field automatically.
Thomasson is currently working on a system that will be able to aid plant breeders in sorting through the thousands or even tens of thousands of plants for the development of new varieties.
[One of Thomasson's partners in the venture, Dr. Bill Rooney] and other breeders have been working on new varieties for years. Whether produced by conventional plant crosses or genetic manipulation, the first selections of any breeding program rely a great deal upon observable characteristics of individual plants – what’s called “phenotyping.”
“A major limitation in the genetic improvement of energy crops is the collection of large, good quality phenotypic data,” Thomasson said. “Traditional plant phenotypic measurements rely on humans, and are slow, expensive and subjective.”
Eventually the group wants to develop sorghum for energy production that has good yields, tolerates drought, and uses nitrogen efficiently. To get there, they are developing a variety of sensors to include:
Down-looking six-band, multi-spectral camera.
Down-looking thermal imaging camera.
A newly released study on precision agriculture by Lux Research shows how cost-effective these new technologies are. Here’s some information from their release.
Precision agriculture is a quantified approach to cultivation that employs sensing, input modulation, and data analytics to enhance the efficiency of agriculture and increased crop yields. While individual tools are not typically cost-effective, and often not relevant for small farms, combining these technologies into integrated solutions for large farms leads to gains – cost savings plus revenue increases – of up to $66.50 per acre for U.S. winter wheat, according to Lux Research.
In the Lux Research study, the best-case scenario assumed wireless-transmitting soil moisture sensors, combined with weather forecasting service and integrated decision support on farms of 5,000 acres. While savings from input costs averaged $24.5 per acre, output gains were $42.0 per acre.
“The key to effective precision agriculture is legitimate decision support, closing the loop from measurements, through recording and analysis, to seamlessly link on-farm conditions with actionable advice,” said Sara Olson, Lux Research Analyst and the lead author of the report titled, “Every Input Is an Opportunity: How Precision Agriculture Is Redefining the Business of Cultivation.”
For the first time in history – income will have a greater influence on food security than population. During the Taming Agricultural Risks meeting at the Chicago Federal Reserve, Purdue Extension agricultural economist Dr. Mike Boehlje said growth in terms of incomes is critical to the long-term growth of agriculture.
In this Precision Pays Podcast, sponsored by Ag Leader Technology, we’ll take a look at why income growth is important to agriculture, and ultimately the technology that’s used to make farmer produce more efficiently.
Precision Pays Podcast
The Precision Pays Podcast is sponsored by Ag Leader Technology.
AgGateway announced the publication of the Ag eStandards Release 5.3. The release includes new messages to support fertilizer tonnage reporting, feed tonnage reporting and seed booking processes. The new messages will enable eConnectivity among agribusiness companies, increasing accuracy and efficiency in their businesses.
“This is one of the biggest standard releases in years for agribusiness,” said AgGateway Standards Director Jim Wilson. “The breadth of input across the agriculture industry for this release is unprecedented – It required extensive work and collaboration from AgGateway member companies.”
Wilson cited in particular the work of the AgGateway Seed Council, Crop Nutrition Council, Standards & Guidelines Committee and the Open Applications Group (OAGi).
“This release represents significant progress toward achieving AgGateway’s mission to promote, enable and expand eBusiness in agriculture,” he added. “From standardizing and automating previously state-specific and manual fertilizer reporting, to streamlining increasingly complex seed purchase planning, licensing and logistics – this release offers a lot.”
Miniature wireless sensors attached to bumblebees could soon give researchers real-time data on their pollination patterns. This story from Oregon State University says researchers at the school are planning to build sensors that will track how the bees pollinate fruits and vegetables, including blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, tomatoes and dozens of other staples.
Given recent losses of European honeybees to diseases, mites and colony collapse disorder, bumblebees are becoming increasingly important as agricultural pollinators, said Sujaya Rao, an entomologist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.
“Lack of pollination is a risk to human food production,” said Rao, an expert on native bees. “With our sensors, we are searching for answers to basic questions, such as: Do all members of one colony go to pollinate the same field together? Do bumblebees communicate in the colony where food is located? Are bumblebees loyal as a group?”
“The more we can learn about bumblebees’ customs of foraging, pollination and communication,” she added, “the better we can promote horticultural habitats that are friendly to bees in agricultural settings.”
The article goes on to point out that flowers and hedgerows near crops can promote the presence and population of bumblebees and help increase yields.
The researchers are also hoping they can one day track other small species, such as invasive pests.
Apps on our smartphones and tablets make our lives much simpler. Brian Arnall is the precision nutrient management extension specialist for Oklahoma State. Earlier this month he presented at the 2013 InfoAg Conference on precision agriculture. Arnall’s presentation focused on agricultural applications.
In this Precision Pays Podcast we’ll find out what makes an agricultural app great.
Precision Pays Podcast
The Precision Pays Podcast is sponsored by Ag Leader Technology.
Recent research is definitive: As much as 60 percent of yield depends on soil fertility. Unfortunately, the science behind this imperative aspect of farming isn’t always so clear, confusing even the most veteran agriculture professionals. A new initiative from The Mosaic Company aims to better explain the various scientific aspects vital to achieving maximum yield.
Mosaic’s CropNutrition initiative is an integrated campaign designed to inform growers and retailers about key issues and trends affecting soil fertility. By using various vehicles to spread this message, Mosaic hopes to spread awareness of the fact that, for many farmers, the key to higher yield is right under their feet.
At the center of this program is CropNutrition.com, an educational digital hub that serves as a one-stop soil fertility resource for ag retailers, growers and industry experts looking to better understand the yield-sensitive scientific aspects of soil.
CropNutrition.com combines the best research and soil fertility resources from The Mosaic Company’s previous crop nutrition resource (Back-to-Basics.net) with new information from Mosaic’s global network of research partners. Additionally, research findings and insights from The Mosaic Company’s top agronomists provide timely, useful information on soil fertility.
Custom research methods developed by DuPont Pioneer corn researchers to breed Optimum AQUAmax products are being used to target other yield-robbing, environmental and disease stresses. During the testing of Optimum AQUAmax products — which are helping farmers grow corn in stressful, water-limited environments — a research program, called managed stress environment testing, was developed.
Managed stress environment testing is not a standard operating procedure; in fact, it is unique to Pioneer for evaluating new products for specific corn stresses. Currently, Pioneer researchers use managed stress environment testing to evaluate corn responses to abiotic stresses associated with limited nitrogen availability, to important corn diseases and to plant damage from strong windstorms. Traditionally, corn breeders relied on diverse environments in widely scattered research locations to get close to a real-world evaluation of overall hybrid performance.
In developing the research tactics for managed stress environment testing a cadre of methodologies — under the umbrella of the Accelerated Yield Technology (AYT) system — plays a central role. Acting as a filter to sort out specific environmental screens for disease, genetics, fertility and drought, the AYT system is used to test all phases of corn product development. Testing methods incorporate genetic mapping, marker assisted selection, whole genome modeling and precision phenotyping, among others.
The 2013 World Food Prize will honor three distinguished scientists – Marc Van Montagu of Belgium, and Mary-Dell Chilton and Robert T. Fraley of the United States.
Building upon the scientific discovery of the Double Helix structure of DNA in the 1950s, Van Montagu, Chilton, and Fraley each conducted groundbreaking molecular research on how a plant bacterium could be adapted as a tool to insert genes from another organism into plant cells, which could produce new genetic lines with highly favorable traits.
The revolutionary biotechnology discoveries of these three individuals – each working in separate facilities on two continents – unlocked the key to plant cell transformation using recombinant DNA. Their work led to the development of a host of genetically enhanced crops, which, by 2012, were grown on more than 170 million hectares around the globe by 17.3 million farmers, over 90 percent of whom were small resource-poor farmers in developing countries.
From their work in the laboratory to applying biotechnology innovations in farmers’ fields, the combined achievements of the 2013 World Food Prize Laureates have contributed significantly to increasing the quantity and availability of food.
The 2012 corn crop delivered many of the problems that were foreseen throughout last year’s growing season. Decreased yields, variable quality and mycotoxins have affected livestock production throughout North America. However, this crop may still be causing trouble as we dig deeper into the storage bins.
Alltech’s 37+ Program surveyed 329 samples from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2012. Only one percent of the samples analyzed were free of mycotoxin contamination; 94 percent were contaminated with two to 10 mycotoxins. In corn grain samples, 95 percent contained Fumonisin and 48 percent contained DON. In corn silage, 90 percent contained Fumonisin and 84 percent contained DON. The DDG samples contained 100 percent of both Fumonisin and DON. In all samples tested, aflatoxin was present in 18 percent.
At harvest time, it was recommended for mycotoxin contaminated grain to be dried to 14 percent moisture within 24 to 48 hours to stabilize mold growth and ensure adequate grain storage. By limiting mold growth, mycotoxin production can be stabilized, but any mycotoxins already present would remain.
Balchem Corporation (NASDAQ: BCPC), the global leader in choline chloride and precision release nutrient technologies, announced the creation of a new grant-based research program, the Real Science Initiative. The program will offer funding to university and related research institutes to support new research projects in animal nutrition, performance and health. Grant pre-proposals must be submitted by August 1, 2013. Complete details about the program are available at www.balchemresearch.com.
Balchem’s focus on research is well known in the animal agriculture industry, with a long history of directing and supporting both university and on-farm research initiatives. Founded on the principal of “Real Science,” Balchem is concentrating on the areas of feeding efficiency and animal health to improve overall animal performance, productivity and health.
Potential areas of research may include:
- Developing new applications of existing precision release nutrient technologies (e.g., nutrient encapsulation).
- Developing new technologies for increasing the efficacy of nutrient utilization.
- Product applications that enhance newborn, growing or mature animal immune responsiveness and productivity through improvements in enteric health.
- Increasing the understanding of choline metabolism, including interactions between choline and other nutrients involved in one-carbon metabolism and the application of this understanding.
The plant hormones called auxins are well-known for stimulating development of roots and other structures, and now University of Florida scientists have shown that auxins help plants cope with environmental stresses.
“Our findings show there’s a possibility of manipulating plant stress tolerance with auxins,” Rathinasabapathi said. “It may be possible to administer auxins to crops at critical stages of growth or possibly engineer new varieties that respond to auxins more efficiently.”
The study compared wild-type Arabidopsis thaliana plants with mutant specimens that weren’t able to transport auxins through their tissues effectively. When subjected to oxidative stress, salt and high temperatures, the wild-type plants fared better than the mutants.
Next, the team will investigate whether auxins could improve stress tolerance in rice plants. Rice is one of the world’s most widely consumed staple crops and is subject to heat and drought damage.
Farmers are accustomed to adjusting to the twists and turns of growing seasons on a short-term basis, but long-term planning is more difficult, according to climate field specialist Laura Edwards from South Dakota State University’s Extension office in Aberdeen.
The Climate and Corn-based Cropping Systems Coordinated Agricultural Project explores ways that corn growers can adjust their cropping practices to make their operations more sustainable. It is also aimed at limiting or reducing the vulnerability of farmers to short term climate events, such as the 2012 drought. The $20 million grant, headed by Iowa State University, brings together 140 experts from 10 land-grant institutions and a USDA research unit in the Corn Belt.
A smaller more applied project, Useful2Usable, seeks to give farmers the soil, crop and climate data they need to make shorter-term and long-range decisions. The $5 million project is headed by Purdue University.
Growers across the Corn Belt are either anxiously waiting to get into their fields or are in the early stages of planting their 2013 corn crop. If cool, wet weather continues, planting will be delayed for many growers and prompt questions about switching to earlier season hybrids.
Long-term research studies from DuPont Pioneer and several universities show that adapted, full-season corn hybrids usually offer the best yield and profit advantage when planting delays are not extreme.
Full-season hybrids typically make full use of a growing season. Even when planted late, these hybrids often outperform early maturing hybrids, adjusting their growth and development to reach maturity in a shortened growing season.
Long-term studies by both Pioneer and universities which included a range of hybrid maturities across planting dates extending from April through June have shown a clear yield and profit advantage for full-season hybrids.
The recent acquisition of Becker Underwood by BASF is more than just putting the two companies together. It means more research and development as each is able to look at the other’s advancements and see how they might be able to combine products for maximum efficiency
“Both companies are bringing together a lot of existing technology that we’re starting to examine to see if we can find some synergies with what we already have,” explained Kurt Seevers, field development leader for seed enhancements and biologicals, during the recent tour of the plant facility in St.Joseph, Mo. He added that going forward, they’ll also look at combining new material they are each developing.
Kurt said they might work on 750 treatments in a year, and of course, not all of them make it to market. But he said since they’ve done a lot of their prep work in the labs, more often than not, a treatment will go forward once it has hit the field testing.
He said they have some real challenges, including improving on already hot products, such as VAULT HP. “It does give us a challenge in research so we have the opportunity to take materials we’re looking at and put them in products that look really good already and see if we can make improvements that way. That’s typically how we take that next step.”
Kurt concluded that they are working on agriculture’s overall goal of feeding a growing world in a sustainable, ecologically respectful way.
Interview with Kurt Seevers, Becker Underwood field development lead
Becker Underwood media tour photo album