The Changing Face of Agriculture: Ag Technologies
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This page has been created as a resource for Migrant Education Programs interested in in keeping up with current trends affecting US Agriculture. It is a collaborative project between the IRRC Consortium and the GOSOSY Consortium.
If agriculture is to continue to feed the world, it needs to become more like manufacturing, says Geoffrey Carr. Fortunately, that is already beginning to happen.
Farms are becoming more like factories: tightly controlled operations for turning out reliable products, immune as far as possible from the vagaries of nature. Read More
At the University of Sydney, the Australian Centre for Field Robotics has developed RIPPA (Robot for Intelligent Perception and Precision Application), a four-wheeled, solar-powered device that identifies weeds in fields of vegetables and zaps them individually. At the moment it does this with precise, and precisely aimed, doses of herbicide. But it, or something similar, could instead use a beam of microwaves, or even a laser. That would allow the crops concerned to be recognized as “organic” by customers who disapprove of chemical treatments.
Use of Drones
Things are changing in the air, too. In a recapitulation of the early days of manned flight, the makers of unmanned agricultural drones are testing a wide range of designs to find out which is best suited to the task of flying multispectral cameras over farms.
By using both images and data the drones can pick up on plant stress weeks before the naked eye. Sensors measure plant color, which, during photosynthesis, indicates health.
Researchers in Arizona have started testing the use of drones on cotton plants to apply insecticide only to portions of a field showing damage from insects, drastically reducing the chemicals needed.
Farmers also gather information by flying planes over their land. Airborne instruments are able to measure the amount of plant cover and to distinguish between crops and weeds. Using a technique called multispectral analysis, which looks at how strongly plants absorb or reflect different wavelengths of sunlight, they can discover which crops are flourishing and which not.
Sensors attached to moving machinery can even take measurements on the run. For example, multispectral sensors mounted on a tractor’s spraying booms can estimate the nitrogen needs of crops about to be sprayed, and adjust the dose accordingly. A modern farm, then, produces data aplenty. Data needs interpreting, and for that, information technology is essential.
FitBit for Cows?
Cattle, in particular, are getting their own private sensors. Devices that sit inside an animal’s rumen, measuring stomach acidity and looking for digestive problems have been available for several years. They have now been joined by movement detectors such as that developed by Smartbell, a small firm in Cambridge, England. This sensor hangs around a cow’s neck, recording its wearer’s movement and transmitting that information to the cloud. An animal’s general activity level is a good indication of its fitness, so the system can give early warning of any trouble.
Learn More: A Cowboys job is changing.
The following web resources and articles have been gathered to explain how the US/World Agriculture Market continues to change and evolve with new technologies.
iTK, based in Montpellier, France, specializes in grapes and has built mathematical models that describe the behavior of all the main varieties. It is now expanding into California.
Vintel is the first web-based tool for real-time and predictive management of agronomic decisions, using environmental and climatic data, says iTK owner and manager, Eric Jallas of Montpellier, France. "Vintel applies agronomic modeling and artificial intelligence to drive the vintner’s decision-making process," Jallas says. The predictive tool allows for the kind of management analysis vineyard managers need to deliver precisely what the vines need, when and where they need it. Learn More
Rowbot Systems of Minneapolis is developing a bot that can travel between rows of partly grown maize plants, allowing it to apply supplementary side dressings of fertilizer to the plants without crushing them. Indeed, it might be possible in future to match the dose to the plant in farms where individual plants’ needs have been assessed by airborne multispectral cameras.
Robots are also of interest to growers of fruit and vegetables that are currently picked by hand. Fruit-picking is a time-consuming business which, even though the pickers are not well rewarded, would be a lot faster and cheaper if it were automated. And robot pickers are starting to appear.
The SW6010, made by AGROBOT, a Spanish firm, uses a camera to recognize strawberries and work out which are ripe for the plucking. Those that are have their stems severed by blades and are caught in baskets before being passed on by a conveyor belt for packing by a human operator sitting on the robot. In the Netherlands, researchers at Wageningen University are working on a robot harvester for larger produce such as peppers.
Learn More- Agrobot
In many ways, Growing Underground’s farm resembles any other indoor hydroponic operation. But there is one big difference. A conventional greenhouse, with its glass or polycarbonate walls, is designed to admit as much sunlight as possible. Growing Underground specifically excludes it. Instead, illumination is provided by light-emitting diodes (LEDs). These, in the minimalist spirit of hydroponics, have had their spectra precisely tuned so that the light they emit is optimal for the plants’ photosynthesis.
As you would expect, sensors watch everything—temperature, humidity, illumination—and send the data directly to Cambridge University’s engineering department where it is crunched, along with information on the plants’ growth, to work out the best regimes for future crops.
Learn More: http://growing-underground.com/
Beef without the cow?- Cultured Meat
There may be an even better way to grow muscle, the animal tissue most wanted by consumers, than on animals themselves. At least two groups of researchers think it can be manufactured directly. In 2013, Mark Post of Maastricht University, in the Netherlands, unveiled the first hamburger made from muscle cells grown in laboratory cultures. In February of this year a Californian firm called Memphis Meats followed suit with the first meatball.
Dr Post’s original hamburger, which weighed 140 grams, was assembled from strips of muscle cells grown in Petri dishes. Including all the set-up costs, it was said to have cost 250,000 ($350,000), or $2.5m a kilogram. Scaling up the process will bring that figure down a lot. This means growing the cells in reactor vessels filled with nutrient broth. But, because such cells are supposed to be parts of bodies, they cannot simply float around in the broth in the way that, for example, yeast cells used in biotechnology can. To thrive, they must be attached to something, so the idea is to grow them on small spheres floating in the vessels. Fat cells, which add juiciness to meat, would be cultured separately.
Do this successfully, Dr Post reckons, and the cost would fall to $65 a kilogram. Add in technological improvements already under way, which will increase the density of muscle cells that can be grown in a reactor, and he hopes that Mosa Meat, the firm he has founded to exploit his work commercially, will have hamburger mince ready for sale (albeit at the pricey end of the market) in five years’ time.
The future of meat lies in a $325,000 lab-grown burger.
A Japanese company is set to open the world’s first “robot farm”, as agriculture joins other sectors of the economy in attempting to fill labour shortages created by the country’s rapidly ageing population.
Spread, a vegetable producer, said industrial robots would carry out all but one of the tasks needed to grow the tens of thousands of lettuces it produces each day at its vast indoor farm in Kameoka, Kyoto prefecture, starting from mid-2017.
The robots will do everything from re-planting young seedlings to watering, trimming and harvesting crops.
The innovation will boost production from 21,000 lettuces a day to 50,000 a day, the firm said, adding that it planned to raise that figure to half a million lettuces daily within five years.
pursuit because it will in the end contribute most to real wealth, good morals, and happiness."