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April 29th, 2015

"Thousands of years ago, agriculture began as a highly site-specific activity. The first farmers were gardeners who nurtured individual plants, and they sought out the microclimates and patches of soil that favored those plants. But as farmers acquired scientific knowledge and mechanical expertise, they enlarged their plots, using standardized approaches—plowing the soil, spreading animal manure as fertilizer, rotating the crops from year to year—to boost crop yields. Over the years, they developed better methods of preparing the soil and protecting plants from insects and, eventually, machines to reduce the labor required. Starting in the nineteenth century, scientists invented chemical pesticides and used newly discovered genetic principles to select for more productive plants. Even though these methods maximized overall productivity, they led some areas within fields to underperform. Nonetheless, yields rose to once-unimaginable levels: for some crops, they increased tenfold from the nineteenth century to the present.


Today, however, the trend toward ever more uniform practices is starting to reverse, thanks to what is known as “precision agriculture.” Taking advantage of information technology, farmers can now collect precise data about their fields and use that knowledge to customize how they cultivate each square foot.


One effect is on yields: precision agriculture allows farmers to extract as much value as possible from every seed. That should help feed a global population that the UN projects will reach 9.6 billion by 2050. Precision agriculture also holds the promise of minimizing the environmental impact of farming, since it reduces waste and uses less energy. And its effects extend well beyond the production of annual crops such as wheat and corn, with the potential to revolutionize the way humans monitor and manage vineyards, orchards, livestock, and forests. Someday, it could even allow farmers to depend on robots to evaluate, fertilize, and water each individual plant—thus eliminating the drudgery that has characterized agriculture since its invention.


ACRE BY ACRE


The U.S. government laid the original foundations for precision agriculture in 1983, when it announced the opening up of the Global Positioning System (GPS), a satellite-based navigation program developed by the U.S. military, for civilian use. Soon after, companies began developing what is known as “variable rate technology,” which allows farmers to apply fertilizers at different rates throughout a field. After measuring and mapping such characteristics as acidity level and phosphorous and potassium content, farmers match the quantity of fertilizer to the need. For the most part, even today, fields are tested manually, with individual farmers or employees collecting samples at predetermined points, packing the samples into bags, and sending them to a lab for analysis. Then, an agronomist creates a corresponding map of recommended fertilizers for each area designed to optimize production. After that, a GPS-linked fertilizer spreader applies the selected amount of nutrients in each location."


Read more from Foreign Affairs.

April 14th, 2015

 


4R Nutrient Stewardship


A Policy Toolkit


March 2015


International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA)


Optimized use of fertilizers by farmers around the world is necessary for food and nutrition security and for safeguarding natural resources and ecosystems. The fertilizer industry has taken up nutrient stewardship as a priority area of work in support of this fact.


Fertilizers of  an  organic  or  mineral  nature replenish  soil  nutrients  removed  after  each  harvest, provide  nutrients  to  plants  so  they  can  grow  bountiful  crops,  ensure  higher  agricultural  yields  and thus make an important contribution to food security. Utilizing fertilizers to increase productivity of existing arable land helps slow down encroachment on forests and natural habitats, thereby making an important contribution to biodiversity preservation and climate change mitigation.


The  benefits of  nutrient  stewardship  include  reduced  environmental  impact,  increased  productivity and  biodiversity  preservation.  More  judicious  use  of  fertilizers  by  farmers  also  enables  them  to improve  farming  profitability.  One industry  framework  seeking  to  achieve  these  outcomes  is  4R nutrient stewardship.


Read more from IFA.


 

March 30th, 2015

WHEATFIELD – State and local farm organizations are speaking out in favor of the use of biosolids as fertilizer and against the push to allow individual towns to ban their use.


The statements from the Niagara County and New York State farm bureaus come as Quasar Energy Group is suing the Town of Wheatfield to try to overturn its biosolids ban, while several towns are asking the State Legislature to allow them the power to pass such bans, too.


Although Wheatfield has passed a resolution in favor of such a “home rule” law, Town Attorney Robert J. O’Toole said at last week’s Town Board meeting, “We also believe the Town of Wheatfield has the authority to enact the law it did without further authority from the state.”


Quasar, whose anaerobic digester in Wheatfield produces plentiful biosolids as a byproduct, disagrees and has filed suit in State Supreme Court seeking to overturn the law on the grounds that it exceeded the town’s authority.


The original suit was filed in Erie County, but the town was successful in having the venue shifted to Niagara County. However, as of last week the case had not yet been assigned to one of the State Supreme Court justices in Niagara County, O’Toole said.


The state Department of Agriculture and Markets, which sent the town a complaint about the law last fall, wondering whether the Wheatfield law impinged on the right to farm, has not yet made any response to the information the town sent in reply.


The position of the state and county farm bureaus is that any regulation of biosolids should come from Albany.


“The Department of Environmental Conservation and Ag and Markets are the appropriate regulators,” said Steve Ammerman, spokesman for the New York Farm Bureau. “They have the skills and abilities to make that determination.”


The state Farm Bureau’s 2015 policy priorities say, “We support the education of both farmers and the public on the benefits of using biosolids as a source of fertilizer. … Municipal prohibitions restricting the use of biosolids should not be allowed.”


James J. Bittner, a Somerset fruit farmer and president of the Niagara County Farm Bureau, said, “Biosolids have been safely and widely used in agriculture for decades. Farmers should have the right to choose whether or not to use it on their land.”'


Read more from The Buffalo News.

March 11th, 2015

COLUMBUS — Promising that it’s just one more step, the Ohio House today unanimously approved a bill designed to control agricultural fertilizer runoff that contributes to algal blooms on Lake Erie like those that briefly contaminated Toledo’s water supply last summer.


Critics characterized the bill as not strong enough while backers of its provisions argued that the state has to proceed carefully so as not to undermine the state’s number-one industry.


But in the end all came together to support the bill, knowing that it’s likely to have little effect, if any, on this year’s algal bloom season.


Rep. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo) told her colleagues about awakening on the morning of Aug. 2 to the warning that Toledo area residents “can’t touch the water … It was so scary.”


“We’re taking such a baby step on this…,” she said. “This is real stuff … I implore you to do much, much more and take the politics out of it.”


Rep. Brian Hill (R., Zanesville), a farmer who chaired the committee that fashioned the bill, argued that agriculture “stepped up” even though it is only part of the problem causing the nutrient load in Lake Erie.


“I’m regulating my own industry,” he said. “This is what I do … I know (House Bill 61) doesn’t go as far as some would like to see, but we all realize this is a beginning ... It really isn’t politics to me. It’s our number-one industry.”


The bill restricts application of manure and chemical fertilizers at times when the ground is frozen, snow-covered, or otherwise saturated and when the forecast calls for significant precipitation. In some cases, that means farmers will have to invest in storage facilities to keep manure until it can be spread.



Read more from The Blade

February 23rd, 2015

"In Iowa, there's a 3,000-acre farm that uses machines to accomplish most tasks, from seeding to fertilizing and chemical application. This land, owned by the Mitchell family, is known as one of the most mechanized farms in the United States, and it's far from being unique. The Mitchells and their equally high-tech neighbors are some of the top corn producers in the US, thanks to their machines. But more and more farmers in the country are also turning to agricultural robots, as laborers start dwindling in number and demands for crops and produce continue to grow. After all, they need all the help they can get to feed millions of people, since it's just not feasible to farm by hand anymore as it was a hundred years ago. Seeing as the US population has grown by 22.5 percent between 1990 (an estimated 250 million) and 2010 (310 million), and the Census Bureau expects it to balloon to more than 420 million in 2050, you can expect to see more robots doing the dirty work on more American farms.


The Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, divides agricultural robots into three generations. The first gen is comprised of basic ones that can collect data, while the second-gen bots are capable of harvesting, seeding, spraying and cultivating. Finally, the third and most advanced generation is comprised of autonomous robots capable of caring for plants without (or with minimal) human intervention. As you can see below, American farms already use machines from across three generations, though most of the ones that fall under the third are still in development."


Read more from Engadget

February 20th, 2015

"The nation’s top nutritional panel is recommending for the first time that Americans consider the impact on the environment when they are choosing what to eat, a move that defied a warning from Congress and, if enacted, could discourage people from eating red meat.


Members of Congress had sought in December to keep the group from even discussing the issue, asserting that while advising the government on federal dietary guidelines, the committee should steer clear of extraneous issues and stick to nutritional advice.


But the panel’s findings, issued Thursday in the form of a 571-page report, recommended that Americans be kinder to the environment by eating more foods derived from plants and fewer foods that come from animals. Red meat is deemed particularly harmful because of, among other things, the amount of land and feed required in its production.


“Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet,” the report says.


The environmental recommendations are part of a report meant to provide the scientific basis for the next version of the Dietary Guidelines, the federal government’s publication on what to eat. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Agriculture Department will issue the guidelines later this year."


Read more from The Washington Post


 

February 18th, 2015

Learn More! Participate! Spread the word!


Please view ResponisbleAg's new video on Youtube.


Learn more about ResponsibleAg here.

February 18th, 2015

The AFVP launched a video calling on fertilizer experts to volunteer their time, knowledge and expertise in Africa.


Please view the video on YouTube.

February 9th, 2015

"Let’s start small. We depend on bees to pollinate plants that account for about one-third of the world’s food supply, but since 2006 bee colonies in the United States have been dying off at an unprecedented rate. More recently, the same “colony collapse disorder” has appeared in China, Egypt and Japan.


Many suspect that the main cause is a widely used type of pesticides called neonicotinoids, but the evidence is not yet conclusive. The fact remains that one-third of the American bee population has disappeared in the past decade. If the losses spread and deepen, we may face serious food shortages.


Then there’s peak fertilizer, or more precisely peak phosphate rock. Phosphorus is a critical ingredient of fertilizer, and it is the eightfold increase in the use of fertilizers that has enabled us to triple food production worldwide from about the same area of land in the past 60 years.


At the moment we are mining about 200 million tonnes of phosphate rock a year, and the global reserve that could be mined at a reasonable cost with current technology is estimated at about 16 billion tonnes. At the current level of production it won’t run out entirely for 80 years, but the increasing demand for fertilizers to feed the growing population means that phosphate production is rising fast.


As with peak oil, the really important date is not when there are no economically viable phosphate rock reserves left, but when production starts to fall. Peak phosphate is currently no more than 40 years away — or much less, if fertilizer use continues to grow. After that, it’s back to organic fertilizers, which mainly means the urine and feces of 10 billion or 12 billion human beings and their domesticated animals. Good luck with that.


Peak soil is a trickier notion, but it derives from the more concrete concept that we are “mining” the soil: degrading and exhausting it by growing single-crop “monocultures,” using too much fertilizer and irrigating too enthusiastically, all in the name of higher crop yields."


Read more from The Telegram.

February 2nd, 2015

"In 2013, I made my first trip to Ethiopia. Knowing a bit about the country’s economic circumstances, I fully expected the grim poverty that I’d later encounter. After all, like millions of Americans, I watched the devastating famine there unfold on television in the 1980s.


At the same time, Ethiopia has made great strides since then. Ethiopia halved the number of its undernourished people from 75 percent to 35 percent in two decades, according to the United Nations. Still, that 35 percent is considerable – the U.N.’s World Food Programme estimates that 3.2 million Ethiopians need food relief assistance.


So imagine my surprise when I entered a restroom in a small town outside Addis, the capital, and found sensorized urinals – the kind that self-flush. I don’t normally notice urinals, but in Ethiopia, where electricity and indoor plumbing are unreliable at best, sensorized urinals catch your attention. To find something as relatively advanced as a sensorized machine in a small Ethiopian town doesn’t necessarily say much about the country; but it says a lot about the machine.


In particular, it illustrates the potential of sensors and how they could hold the key to significantly reducing the world’s hunger problem. Sensors are everywhere and in everything, at least in developed nations such as the United States. They’ve revolutionized our mobile phones, and are now powering the next wave of wearable tech devices. Sensors are the reason the automotive industry is poised to deliver a driverless car.


The best thing about sensors, aside from their potential? They’re dirt cheap. The average smartphone holds five to seven sensors that cost about $5 combined. In 2007, an accelerometer, which comes standard in all smartphones today, cost $7 — now it costs less than 50 cents. The steep price decline, which has been in place since the early 1990s, is a function of strong competition in the smartphone arena and the growing number of applications using sensor technology. But nothing mandates that sensors are for smartphones only."


Read more from The Washington Post.

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