Knowing Your Roots

Posts tagged ‘Agriculture’

Apps for Ag – Farmers are using them every minute!

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Apps, we all use them.  Short for “application software,” they didn’t even exist until recently!

However, now some of these quick hit apps are the first thing we look at in the morning and last thing at night (and multiple times during the day).

Just as apps have become essential in our day to day lives, they are now helping farmers make decisions that allow them to grow our food more efficiently at the same low cost to consumers.

They have become so commonplace that there are now services such as Agriculture.com that provide rankings of the top apps to assist farmers in choosing between them.

This is not surprising as the trend for greater and greater reliance on huge data-bases of information and new technologies become an  essential  part of modern agriculture.

Farmers now use their hand-held devises for many things, including checking weather, turning on or off irrigation equipment, maintaining pest counts from field scouting, identifying bugs, checking field records, reviewing soil types, ensuring site-specific planting or production, keeping track of pest control operations, or just recording  interesting facts that may be of use for long-term field management.

These tools often link directly back to computers in farm offices and allow farmers to maintain a complete record of everything that happens on the farm throughout the year and make critical long-term comparisons at the farm level. This not only helps improve production but is also essential to meet the many processor, retailer and public agency reporting criteria that are required nowadays to keep our food supply safe.

To maintain its integrity and provide unbiased information to farmers, app development is increasingly happening in the public sector. The University of Wisconsin has now launched an inter-disciplinary program designed to develop timely, locally driven, needs-based mobile apps.

Working with UW-Extension agricultural specialists and outreach program managers at the CALS Nutrient and Pest Management Program (Department of Horticulture), app development is occurring to meet many Wisconsin based needs.

These tools are easy to use and based on Wisconsin’s research-based crop recommendations. They are available now for a free download (for details see: http://ipcm.wisc.edu/apps/).  The series currently includes:

  • Wisconsin’s Corn Nitrogen Rate Calculator – designed to assist producers in selecting nitrogen fertilizer rates to maintain profitability in the face of fluctuating nitrogen and corn prices.
  • Nitrogen Price Calculator – which helps convert the price of each commercial fertilizer product from price per ton to price per pound of the key active ingredient, nitrogen — allowing for “apples to apples” comparisons helping growers make economic decisions and follow research-based recommendations.
  • IPM Toolkit – helps growers make the day-to-day pest management decisions by providing up to date articles, videos and research based publications from a single source. Growers can quickly review a large selection of relevant information and pictures to diagnose specific problems in their fields and look for research-based best management practices to address them.
  • Crop Calculators – lets corn growers calculate corn grain yields, corn maturity dates in relation to predicted frost, and corn silage price adjustments in relation to moisture content which helps them determine when it is time for harvest.
  • Manure and Legume Fertility Credit Calculator – helping farmers save money and protect the environment by taking credit for the fertilizer value of manure and legume crops and using less in season fertilizer.

Many more apps are being developed and used by farmers to allow them to balance productivity, profitability and environmental impacts on the farm.

This trend for using mobile technology to improve decision making in agriculture will continue increasing as the worlds need for food expands and farming becomes more competitive.

The key is to ensure that the apps are up to date, provide science and researched-based information, and contain reliable, non-biased data and recommendations.

Having this information in the palm of your hand, in your pickup and in the tractor cab has become as essential to modern farming as the accumulated experience of our grandfathers and fathers that drove agriculture in past times.

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The Future of Farming: Game Changers for the Next Generation

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Harvest is upon us already in the Central Sands and huge harvesters are filling endless lines of trucks with potatoes, green beans and sweet corn—destined to feed the world. These bountiful harvests are already reflecting the results of technological advances in agriculture that are occurring at alarming speed.

Our present day growers are now out-producing their fathers and grandfathers on the family farm by two- and even four- fold by taking advantage of new technology and exceeding the wildest expectations of growers just a decade ago.

In our day to day lives, computers, smart phones and their apps, new methods of communicating, satellites and even drones are in use in every part of society and are advancing so fast that they now define generations. These technologies are also advancing at the same speed in agriculture and changing the way that we produce food.

It is a widely accepted fact that farmers will need to double their production in the foreseeable future in order to keep pace with feeding the world’s population. How is that even possible?   (more…)

Water – The Critically Important Resource for our Nation’s Food Security

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In this current blog series we have been featuring graduate student research on potatoes in Wisconsin, and so far we have covered research in plant breeding, seed production and pest management. We are concluding this student series with 4 blogs on a topic that has emerged as one of the most critical issues facing agriculture today—water.  Will there be a sufficient supply in the coming decades to maintain the productivity and security of our nation’s food supply while guaranteeing the long-term sustainability of the resource in future generations for all to enjoy?

In Wisconsin, the issue of water and its availability is particularly acute in the Central Sands region, which is one of the top five vegetable growing regions in the nation where potatoes, sweet corn, green beans, peas, carrots and cucumbers all rank near the top of U.S. production.  The foundation of the region’s productivity lies in its geological history, which began during the glacial ice age that encompassed Wisconsin over 15,000 years ago.  The Central Sands is a large and relatively flat glacial outwash plain that deposited abundant sandy soils—ideal for vegetable production—and is underlain by a deep groundwater aquifer that provides the water, vital for crop growth and productivity.

The region covers nearly 1,400 square miles and now supports 200,000 irrigated acres, but prior to the 1950s it was not farmed because there was no efficient way to utilize the abundant water supply and as such, much of the area remained undeveloped.  In the mid-1950s, however, this largely unused, resource-poor area was transformed rapidly when modern irrigation technology became available and affordable due to aluminum supplies increasing after World War II.  This raw material provided farmers the ability to build and deploy the center pivot irrigation systems that could, for the first time, deliver water to 160 acre crop fields in less than 24 hours.  This quickly transformed the regional economic landscape into a thriving specialty crop production area which now supports a $6.4 billion food production industry and generates close to 40,000 jobs within the state of Wisconsin.   (more…)

What makes a great potato? – The science of breeding for the future

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Go to your supermarket these days and you will see an emerging trend in the fruit and vegetable section – an increasing array of varieties on display that are specifically designed to meet consumer demands. Apples lead the way with dozens of different varieties on display with specific tastes, textures and uses. Other food favorites are jumping on the apple bandwagon with potatoes now joining the chase.  Five years ago your potato choices were likely to be limited to russets, round whites and reds, served up in small or large bags with cost often being the a prime driver.  Now, potato choices have rapidly changed as new varieties with multiple colors, shapes and sizes are part of the consumer’s palate.  Today’s consumers are looking for specific varieties based on how they taste and whether they are using them for fries, chips, baked, mashed or salads.

The evolution of choice in potatoes is moving fast now but it has taken generations of painstaking and exacting science to get to where we are today.  Over the coming weeks, the New Family Farm site will explore the art and science of breeding potatoes through the work of graduate students.  Since the beginning of agriculture, humans have been identifying, creating and refining new varieties of food plants for their productivity, appearance and culinary characteristics.  This process, known as plant breeding, continues to help improve potatoes to meet the evolving needs of society by bringing together the skills of several disciplines such as genetics, molecular biology, plant pathology, engineering and others.

The first step in plant breeding is to create individuals with novel genetics that may express the traits we are seeking.  Just as humans create children by combining their genetic makeups, potatoes can be enhanced through genetics. Most new potato varieties are created by “mating” or cross pollinating existing varieties with other varieties, or ancestors, with the goal of combining the best characteristics of the parents to create a new potato that has the features we desire.  Those green, tomato-like fruits, formed on pollinated potato plants contain hundreds of seeds, each one genetically distinct. It takes the artistry of the breeders to grow these thousands upon thousands of seeds in the greenhouse, identify the traits they express, select the most promising, re-cross to obtain the best balance and ultimately propagate them in the field. It can take years to develop a promising new potential variety.   (more…)

Investing in the Future: Potato Research in Wisconsin Pays Big Dividends

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For any progressive business, it is common knowledge that investment in research and development will increase its efficiency or broaden its portfolio. This principal applies to agriculture as well and nowhere is this better exemplified than by Wisconsin’s potato growers. These hardworking growers are known across the United States for their innovations in production, resource conservation and sustainability. These achievements did not occur by happenstance; they required a vision and an investment from the industry to achieve that vision. Recognizing this, every Wisconsin potato grower voluntarily pays 6 cents to their association for every 100 pounds of potatoes produced annually. This is no paltry sum, as Wisconsin is the 3rd largest potato-producing state in the US with close to 28 million 100 pound sacks grown during 2013!

A large portion of this money is invested back into the University of Wisconsin to provide scientists from multiple disciplines the dollars needed to fund research in all areas impacting potatoes. Over 25 projects are funded annually – ranging from short-term, innovative problem solving to long-term, basic science- for a total of over $350,000 each year. The initial association investment of $10-20,000 in funds to individual projects pays big dividends to the growers, the industry and the state, as UW researchers are able to use this funding to leverage additional federal funding sources back to Wisconsin by over 100 fold! In 2014 this translated into over $30 million return on a $350,000 investment!

The dedication and excellence of faculty, academic staff and graduate students across multiple academic disciplines generates remarkable results. To give readers a glimpse into some of the fascinating individual stories being generated in labs and field stations across Wisconsin, the New Family Farm postings over the next several months will feature ongoing research being conducted by graduate students. These will address important topic areas that include Potato Breeding, Seed Production, Growing Potatoes, Protecting Natural Resources and Managing Pests. Each topic will be introduced by faculty experts in the field and followed by specific graduate student research projects. We hope you enjoy these glimpses into the stories that are evolving in one of the nation’s premier potato research programs.

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