Growing Returns

Selected tag(s): farms

Who will protect farmers’ privacy in the big data boom?

shutterstock_171929321When it comes to technology and agriculture, policymakers are wrestling with the role government should play in protecting the intellectual property rights and privacy of farmers.

This discussion came to a head recently when the House Agricultural Committee held a hearing to examine the impacts of “big data” on the entire agricultural life cycle. With farmers and companies collecting and storing data on everything from fertilizer rate to yield to soil conditions, there are important concerns to consider: Is the data secure? Who owns analyzed data? Will companies sell the data to others or make new products based on sensitive information?

Ahead of this hearing I wrote a blog post detailing the hurdles farmers must overcome to fully integrate data as a way to increase the abundance and sustainability of modern food production. The main challenges I highlighted were:

  • Privacy: Farmers need to know they won’t be willingly revealing trade secrets when deciding to share data about their farming techniques.
  • Format: Not all data collection platforms use the same language, so a uniform way to understand what is being collected must be created.
  • Complexity: Many growers are intimidated by the vast quantity of data they collect, so we have to help them understand what matters and what doesn’t.

Read More »

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How “plant doctor” Dan Sonke is making Campbell Soups’ ingredients greener

Dan Sonke, Manager of Ag Sustainability at Campbell Soup.

Dan Sonke, Manager of Agricultural Sustainability at Campbell Soup.

The Campbell Soup Company, along with a growing number of major food companies, is taking action to implement and support sustainable agriculture measures. It’s in their best interest to decrease the risk of supply chain disruptions.

Plus, there’s increasing consumer demand for transparency. A new report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 78 percent of Americans are interested in how their food is produced.

I asked Dan Sonke, manager of agricultural sustainability at Campbell’s, to explain how his company is working with farmers to reduce environmental impacts, why they’re working with Environmental Defense Fund, and about the unprecedented demand he’s seeing for sustainable grain. Read More »

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Fertilizer runoff is just one piece of the dead zone puzzle

Credit: Ohio Wetlands Association

Dead zones (also called hypoxic zones) are caused by a rapid growth in algae that leads to less dissolved oxygen in the water and the death of aquatic species. Credit: Ohio Wetlands Association

It’s true that fertilizer runoff, sewage, and other pollutants from the Corn Belt have significantly boosted dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. That’s because up to half of the fertilizer applied isn’t absorbed by crops, and in order to grow more food we’re using 20 times more fertilizer in the Corn Belt today than in the 1950s.

But even if we optimize fertilizer use on all cropland in the Upper Mississippi and Ohio River Basins, nutrients will still be lost to rivers and streams and carried into the Gulf of Mexico. Some of this loss is inevitable given factors like unpredictable weather, but my colleagues and I set out to quantify other reasons for why the Corn Belt exports so much nitrogen.

We discovered that an increase in fertilizer inputs is only one part of the problem. Three other distinct but interconnected factors also contribute to water pollution and the Gulf dead zone: the loss of perennial cover, the construction of artificial drainage systems, and the loss of wetlands. Read More »

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How to make meat production more sustainable? Start with corn.

Fao

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations celebrates World Food Day each year on October 16th.

It’s World Food Day, which promotes awareness of the planet’s most challenging food issues, including eradicating global hunger. All food production depends on environmental health, but food production itself can harm the planet.

So to address hunger and increase food security, we’ll need to address the environmental impacts of food production and how the food choices we make every day affect the planet.

These choices affect the stability of the climate, the availability of clean drinking water and running rivers, and the persistence of native habitats and the wildlife they house.

No matter our political or cultural differences when it comes to food, there’s one trend that is clear: across the globe, we are making the choice to eat more meat.  Read More »

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Collaboration can save the Mississippi River watershed

By Suzy Friedman, Director, Agricultural Sustainability, Environmental Defense Fund and Max Starbuck, Director, Market Development, National Corn Growers Association

Upper-Mississippi-paddlewheel-final

Credit: America’s Watershed Initiative

Today, a diverse group of more than 400 businesses, associations, government agencies, science organizations, academic institutions and non-profit organizations released the first-ever report card evaluating the condition of one of our nation’s most storied and central waterways. This effort, known as America’s Watershed Initiative, was undertaken to provide information on the challenges facing the waters and lands that make up the 31-state Mississippi River Watershed and the 250 rivers that flow into it.

The overall mark was less than stellar, a D+. However, the process of grading has yielded a pathway to improvement.

Why the poor rating? The watershed continues to experience increased pressure from the demands of urbanization, agriculture, transportation and land development.

Fortunately, moving from a “D+” to an “A” grade is achievable – with new levels of understanding and collaboration. That’s why the Environmental Defense Fund and the National Corn Growers Association have a real desire to work together on this and similar initiatives. Read More »

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Why one Kansas farmer is leading a soil health revolution

Grower Gail Fuller

Kansas farmer Gail Fuller

Soil health wasn’t always this sexy. The United Nations has named 2015 the International Year of the Soils, the National Corn Growers Association created the Soil Health Partnership, and the Telegraph newspaper is claiming that we can only ignore the soil crisis for so long, and that “just a handspan of topsoil lies between us and oblivion.”

But Kansas farmer Gail Fuller has been at the forefront of soil health measures since the early 1980s. Just last month, he hosted the fourth annual “Fuller Field School,” a soil health workshop that was attended by growers from across the globe.

I asked Gail, who operates a diversified 1,000 acre farm in Emporia, Kansas, to tell me why soil health is so important for our food system, and why other growers should get on board. Read More »

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More reasons to embrace food sustainability

farm

Credit: Flickr user Ruben Holthuijsen

There is no shortage of news about the contamination of drinking water sources caused by fertilizer run-off from agriculture. And there is no shortage of regulatory responses to these events: Ohio and Michigan’s commitment to reduce phosphorus levels in Lake Erie by 40 percent; the nitrate lawsuit in Des Moines, Iowa, and Monday’s ruling on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to enforce total maximum daily load specifications for the Chesapeake Bay.

In addition, food companies wanting to source sustainably grown grains to meet that consumer demand and reduce their own supply chain risks are sending the same signal, further shining the spotlight on the growing demand for improved environmental outcomes from how we produce food.

If farmers can help meet these demands by being increasingly efficient with nutrients and protecting their soils, they will see nearer term benefits and possibly stem future regulations. Here’s why:

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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Campbell’s Soup expands its fertilizer optimization programs

220px-Campbell_Soup_Company_logo.svgThere’s a new reason to celebrate your favorite sugar cookie. The Campbell Soup Company has committed to fertilizer optimization in its sourcing areas in Ohio and Nebraska. These areas provide wheat for Campbell’s subsidiary, Pepperidge Farm – and the company will enroll an additional 70,000 acres into its fertilizer optimization programs by 2020.

Campbell will work with EDF to create additional fertilizer optimization and soil conservation programs for farmers, and will deploy United Suppliers’ SUSTAIN platform in these sourcing areas to help ensure farmers that changing their practices will not only reduce nitrogen runoff, but also protect yields and farm income. Read More »

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New research helps farmers set targets for reducing emissions

Credit: photos.com

Credit: photos.com

The easiest way to tackle fertilizer pollution is to lower the amount of nitrogen applied to crops, thereby reducing nutrient losses into the air and water. The problem is, reducing fertilizer rates can also shrink crop yields, which means less income for farmers and less food on our plates.

So here’s the question: how can we slash nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture without sacrificing productivity?

To meet this challenge, scientists need to understand the relationship between “nitrogen surplus” (the amount of applied nitrogen fertilizer not taken up by the plant), “nutrient use efficiency” (the ratio of how much yield you get from each pound of fertilizer applied) and nitrous oxide emissions that contribute to climate change. The more nitrogen a plant absorbs, the less it releases into the air in the form of nitrous oxide and into the water where it can contribute to harmful algal blooms. Read More »

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