Selected tag(s): precision agriculture

Cover crops: a new opportunity for ag retailers

Corn planted in cover crops. Photo courtesy of SUSTAIN.

For the fourth year in a row, a nationwide farmer survey found a boost in soybean and corn yields following the planting of cover crops. That’s in part why cover crop usage increased 350 percent from 2008 to 2012 among the farmers surveyed.

Cover crops are also great for the environment, since they help keep excess nutrients in the field and out of waterways. Yet only around 2 percent of all U.S. farmland uses cover crops, an alarmingly low figure.

That leaves a ton of room for improvement, which could result in huge environmental gains – and a new business opportunity for ag retailers.

Ag retailers that offer expertise on and sell cover crops to their famer customers can get in on this rapidly growing trend. And in so doing, gain customer loyalty and stand out from competitors. Read More »

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Why collaboration between ag equipment and tech companies is a good thing for the environment

In order for the agriculture sector to deliver on the growing demand for sustainable grain and participate in emerging carbon markets, growers need a way to demonstrate that their management practices are benefiting the environment.

Scientists have identified multiple practices that farmers can implement to maximize yield while minimizing impacts to air and water. Meanwhile, companies such as Trimble Ag, John Deere, SST Software, and countless others have developed a wide array of sensing tools and data collection methodologies to calculate and monitor the environmental benefits of these practices.

Yet as one might expect in any emerging market, the tools aren’t fully communicating with each other, thereby limiting their true potential.

The good news is that the makers of these technologies have started collaborating with agricultural practitioners to make their systems more compatible. Even in this fragmented industry, companies are starting to work together to streamline data collection – and this has enormous implications for sustainability.

Here’s why. Read More »

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A reality check on the drones boom

A drone flies over a farm field. Photo credit: Flickr user ackab1

A drone flies over a farm field with an on-board camera. Photo credit: Flickr user ackab1

Last week, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released much anticipated rules on commercial small drone use. In a nutshell:

  • The rules loosen restrictions on commercial drone use, and later this summer the FAA will start legally allowing permits for drones weighing less than 55 pounds.
  • The rules are a boon to producers and ranchers interested in precision farming practices, thanks to drones’ advanced imaging technologies.

Industry groups estimate that precision agriculture has the potential to account for almost 80 percent of civilian drone use by 2020. Already, 16 percent of agricultural retailers are selling drones – a figure set to skyrocket in the coming years.

So this is big news for the ag industry – but will it help the environment, too?

Not necessarily. Drones provide lots of data, and nothing more. They don’t actually change anything on the ground or benefit the environment directly. It’s up to growers and their advisors to use the information collected by drones to make informed decisions that can benefit profitability and the planet. Here’s why drones are just one (important) piece of the puzzle. Read More »

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A newly re-energized sustainable ag movement

Walmart_Store_RFLast month I spent some time in Bentonville, Arkansas, at Walmart's semi-annual “Sustainability Showcase,” a celebration of the company’s progress in implementing environmental initiatives.

During the showcase, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon invited the executives of major Fortune 500 companies in attendance to share their insights on sustainability – and I was inspired. On stage were the CEOs of Cargill, Kellogg, as well as Dr. Mehmood Khan, Vice Chairman and Chief Scientific Officer, Global Research and Development for PepsiCo.

I was struck by how open and bold these CEOs were in recognizing the need and their responsibility to help solve major environmental challenges such as climate change and water pollution. McMillon, for example, started the discussion by explaining that 20 percent of lakes in Minnesota are not drinkable, a situation that "touches people personally every day."

Here’s my take on the top two agricultural highlights – and why I’m more confident than ever that sustainable farming initiatives will improve water and air quality across the U.S. Read More »

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Public funding for ag research has plummeted. Is that a bad thing?

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Cover crop demonstration at the 2013 Soil Health Expo, hosted by NRCS and the Univ. of MO. Credit: Curators of the University of Missouri

Public sector funding for agricultural research is flat lining. While public dollars used to be the primary source of support for ag research, that is no longer the case. Today, the private sector spends as much on agricultural research as the government does, according to USDA. Long-term growth in funding for ag research is also higher in the private sector.

As a recent DTN story noted, “Some skeptics say the need for public research is overblown, that private companies — seed, chemical and machinery — already provide a large pile of dollars.”

Are the skeptics right?

Public and private ag research funding don’t always have the same goals, and they play very different, but equally important roles. Here’s an overview of what each sector contributes, how they relate, and why we need to continue advocating for and supporting investments from both sectors – as well as public-private partnerships. Read More »

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Why the sustainable agriculture glass is half full

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Suzy Friedman, Director of Agricultural Sustainability at EDF

I’ve been working to promote and implement sustainable agriculture practices for nearly 15 years. But the last two years have seen more action and momentum in this space than in all of the previous 13 years combined – and I’m more enthusiastic than ever.

Let me be clear – we still have a long way to go. As a USDA report released at the Paris climate talks noted, warming temperatures pose a significant threat to agriculture and food security across the globe. And, despite technological advancements, the multimillion-dollar question of how we’re going to measure and quantify sustainable agriculture remains.

But a new progress report from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), also released last week in Paris, reaffirms my optimism and excitement. We’re headed in the right direction, and sustainable agriculture is on its way to becoming the norm. Here’s why. Read More »

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Ag’s big data explosion can benefit the environment too

Almost daily, I see new stories on how agribusinesses, entrepreneurs, and traditional technology companies are making big investments in precision agriculture tools and digital platforms that collect data from farms.

These data include information such as fertilizer rate, prescription accuracy, yield by square foot, seed type, and soil type. When analyzed at a large scale, the data can determine best practices for farm operations to maximize yield and minimize input costs.

This is an exciting trend, with big and small companies alike getting into the data game, and the tools used to collect this data becoming ubiquitous. And although these technologies weren’t necessarily started with sustainability in mind, they have tremendous potential to benefit the environment. Read More »

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SUSTAIN: navigating the boom in precision ag

There’s new proof that precision agriculture is on the rise.

Earlier this month, CropLife magazine and Purdue University released a survey that found more than 85 percent of agricultural retailers plan on investing in precision agriculture services in the next year. And more than 15 percent of the 2,000 retailers surveyed will invest over $100,000.

This is good news for increasing fertilizer efficiency, because precision technologies can go a long way toward helping farmers know when and where to apply fertilizer. Applying fertilizer when, where, and in the amounts it’s needed can help save on input costs and reduce the environmental impacts that occur when excess nitrogen runs off into nearby waters or is released into the air.

But there’s a caveat – with so many precision agriculture tools available today and even more coming to market on a regular basis, how is a farmer to know what is best? Growers need to have confidence that precision ag tools will help them optimize their fertilizer use, improve their farm’s sustainability, and protect their yields. Read More »

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No illusion here. Optical sensors can save farmers money.

19159_Husking CornPrecision agriculture is on its way to becoming mainstream. First, farmers need tools and technologies that make this kind of smart farming dramatically easier.

Optical sensors are one of the most promising technologies available now. This technology is very exciting because it helps farmers save money on fertilizer – and improve crop yields.

Optical sensors are devices attached to a farmer’s fertilizer applicator. As the farmer travels across the field applying fertilizer, the technology reads how green or healthy the crop is, and it applies the right amount of fertilizer in accordance with each plant’s needs. Read More »

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Three reasons fertilizer retailers should promote nitrogen efficiency

14980820705_b8d28549c9_nAt first, the idea that fertilizer companies should help farmers become more efficient with fertilizer use is counterintuitive. After all, fertilizer retailers are in business to make money, so it makes sense that they would want to maximize sales of their core product.

Fortunately, using fertilizer more efficiently – even if this means less in some cases — can create more profit for retailers and growers. Fertilizer retailers have good reasons to incorporate fertilizer efficiency in their business strategies. Read More »

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