Labor Terminators: Farming robots are about to take over our farms

Farming robot conceptOf the industries facing automation, agriculture could see the most upside from robots in the next few years. And the farming robot wave, along with other new agricultural technology, could come even sooner than you think. Loup Ventures managing partner Gene Munster compares this next agricultural revolution to the one seen last century, when new equipment, fertilizers, pesticides and high-yield crop breeds sparked an explosion in farm production around the world. “I think agriculture is the greatest near-term — I define over the next five years — opportunity around robotics and autonomy,” he said. The farming robot is actually just one new technology that will transform the sector. Today’s agricultural technology helps farmers plow and spray crops with greater precision. Now improved automation and big data analytics are joining with farming robot technology, pointing to big benefits.  Continue reading

British potato grower improves yields and soil quality significantly with green waste compost

Tony Bambridge is increasing his potato yields and improving his light Norfolk soils by the use of green waste compost, which is especially important in this summer’s dry weather. Potato yields are about 6-7% ahead since he started applying the compost six years ago, while his soils are more resilient, water retentive and workable. The compost has helped build the indices of key nutrients, such as phosphate and potash, and increase organic matter levels in his sandy soils by 0.5%, which were typically 1.5-2.5% before compost was applied. “We are feeding the crop the natural way, creating a sponge to absorb water, adding organic matter to improve soil biology, helping the workability of soils and making them more resilient,” he says.  Continue reading

The drought issue: Smart irrigation becoming more attractive option for spuds

public/news/thumbnail_howseman-agriculture-camnet-.pngA sustained dry period, changes in water licences and shortage of labour are making ‘smart irrigation’ systems more attractive to potato farmers, according to Andrew Howseman of Howseman Agriculture in the UK. “Even farmers that have never needed irrigation before are considering it after this June,” says Andrew. “We’ve got people who’ve been irrigating for at least 50-60 days non-stop, which is completely unheard of. Usually, people would irrigate for a couple of weeks and then we would have three quarters of an inch of rain and they’d have a week or ten days off before they started irrigating again. But this year people started and haven’t stopped…” This is where the drip system developed by Howseman Agriculture comes into its own. It puts the water where it is need and uses 25-30% less water than a traditional hose and reel system and is much less labour intensive. Its six row drip-tape layer recently gained an ‘Innovation for Water’ award at the Lincolnshire Show. Read more

Precision agriculture technology detects late blight with help from IBM Watson

PlantLink is a research network in the area of plant sciences in Sweden, joining Lund University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU). One of the regional projects uses precision agriculture techniques to detect late blight. Scientists at SLU were looking for an automated, efficient and environmentally friendly way to detect late blight early. IBM helped the scientists develop a prototype decision-support system that combines visual and near-infrared image analysis with climate data to predict how likely it is that late blight will strike. The images are analyzed by Watson Image Recognition through IBM Cloud.  Continue reading

Weather data: The next holy grail?

Image result for Weather data: The next holy grail?Capturing unaffectable variables in plant growth and quality is likely to get a lot easier and a lot less expensive thanks to startups, scale ups and the Internet of Things (IoT). Especially since Lemken and CNH Industrial are starting to (re)sell weather stations. The aim of Lemken and CNH Industrial stepping into weather data is to equip every field and crop with simple, reliable, inexpensive and easy to use weather stations. Or, as Lemken likes to put it: “Your fields have started talking, are you ready to listen?” As a first outcome of the partnership, Lemken will start to sell Lemken branded weather stations, followed by rain gauges and most likely soil sensors as well. The hardware comes with a digital online dashboard and smartphone app. CNH Industrial will sell the FieldMate weather stations, SoilMate soil humidity sensors and the RainMate rain gauges in Austria, Benelux, Germany and Switzerland this year, and intends to introduce it in France and Spain as well. The products and related services will be available through the Case IH, New Holland and Steyr dealer networks. Read more

Sniff biff: World’s first wireless NPK sensor is state of the art

Image result for Teralytic NPK Soil ProbeSoil analytics company Teralytic has released a limited number of its wireless soil probes to be delivered in time for the 2019 planting season. The Teralytic probe contains 26 sensors, including the world’s first wireless NPK sensor. Probes are available worldwide and can be pre-ordered now through the Teralytic website. “The collection of data in real time allows growers to make more informed decisions regarding fertilization and irrigation,” says Meagan Hynes, Teralytic’s vice president of soil science. “I’m also excited about the potential to use fertility and respiration data to evaluate soil health.” Combining a focus on soil health with artificial intelligence, machine learning and cloud technologies, Teralytic aims to reduce inputs and save growers time by diagnosing the soils. “Teralytic’s probe warns farmers of changes in the soils before they become problems,” says Teralytic founder and CEO Steven Ridder. Potato Grower report

Smart tech: Portable new system designed to cut sprayer loading times and mistakes by automating chemical blending

Related imageFast loading times are critical for maximizing sprayer efficiency, but mistakes are also more likely to happen when loading in a hurry. An Iowa-based company, Praxidyn, has designed a portable, modular system to shorten the time it takes to blend chemicals and refill the sprayer, while also reducing the chances of errors by automating the process and recording what’s going into the tank. As CEO and owner Doug Applegate explains, the MixMate system measures volume by weight or flow, automatically recognizing when a jug is empty and reconciling actual volumes, accounting for residues left in a container (or a sloppy operator!) He says the jug system can drain, weigh, rinse, record and reconcile the data from a jug in about 12 seconds. “It’s pretty common to load a 1,200 gallon sprayer in about five minutes,” he says. The Android-based system records everything that goes through the MixMate and synchronizes it via Praxidyn’s Intersect cloud service, making it accessible from the office. Read more

New initiative looks at ways to develop ‘smart farms’ in Britain

Leeds University has launched its 'smart farms' initiative to encourage farmers to think modernA new initiative will work closely with the farming industry and government to explore ways to develop ‘smart farms’ in the UK. Farmers and agri-businesses are facing more challenges, including political climate changes, fluctuating trading patterns and the need to increase efficiency and productivity. The Smart Agri-Systems initiative spearheaded by the University of Leeds seeks to give rural businesses a competitive advantage and to increase value. The aim of the initiative is to work with farms and businesses to develop solutions, from advanced monitoring technology to big data analytics. Examples of smart farming to be looked at include the incorporation of sensors on the farm – either fixed, or on drones and robotic crawlers. These can monitor soil temperature and humidity, map crop growth and density, assess ground water composition, and track the weather, with data analysed to project crop performance. Read more

Solar Farms by Agri-Stor provide instant saving to growers

Hindsight has a way of making even the most brilliant of ideas seem obvious and elementary. It’s easy to wonder, “Why didn’t somebody think of this years ago?” In 2016, the folks at Agri-Stor Companies called a meeting to address what was, at the time, a depressed potato market. The Twin Falls, Idaho-based company has developed and built potato storages for over 50 years. There is a prevailing belief at Agri-Stor that they have a responsibility to help growers succeed in whatever ways they can. So in that stressful economic environment for the region’s potato industry, the Agri-Stor folks were looking for solutions just as earnestly as growers were. Jesse Vierstra is a forward-thinking kind of guy. Though he was still a fairly new hire at Agri-Stor at the time, he spoke up and voiced a big idea in that meeting: “Why don’t we get into solar?”  Continue reading

The Netherlands: Tiny country; agricultural giant – showing what the future of farming could look like

Related imageIn a potato field near the Netherlands’ border with Belgium, Dutch farmer Jacob van den Borne is seated in the cabin of an immense harvester before an instrument panel worthy of the starship Enterprise. From his perch 10 feet above the ground, he’s monitoring two drones—a driverless tractor roaming the fields and a quadcopter in the air—that provide detailed readings on soil chemistry, water content, nutrients, and growth, measuring the progress of every plant down to the individual potato. Van den Borne’s production numbers testify to the power of this “precision farming,” as it’s known. The global average yield of potatoes per acre is about nine tons. Van den Borne’s fields reliably produce more than 20. That copious output is made all the more remarkable by the other side of the balance sheet: inputs. Almost two decades ago, the Dutch made a national commitment to sustainable agriculture under the rallying cry “Twice as much food using half as many resources.” Since 2000, van den Borne and many of his fellow farmers have reduced dependence on water for key crops by as much as 90 percent. How on Earth have the Dutch done it? Read the full article in National Geographic

Growing food for a growing planet: Three perspectives on modern American farming

Image result for Growing food for a growing planet: Three perspectives on American farmingToday’s agriculture is going through an important revolution. From tech breakthroughs like smart irrigation to robot-enabled harvesting, the industry is using new innovations to help feed a growing population. And it’s a big job. The United Nations says global food output must increase by 60 percent over the next three decades to keep up with the boom. As modern farming evolves, a diverse range of players is stepping up to this challenge with unique approaches to growing sustainable food. There’s Bill Horan, a farmer for decades, who continuously adapts and embraces new technologies, with an eye toward helping future generations carry on the farming tradition. Jay Hill is bringing a fresh sense of entrepreneurship to his traditional farming practice and using social media to show the world all the hard work—and fun—that are part of farming life. And Abbey Carver, an agronomist and recent college grad, is part of the next generation of tech-enabled growers. She mixes her knowledge of ag-tech and hard science with a passion for the land to help keep the world sustainably fed. Read about these people’s perspectives on modern farming in America in this Washington Post article

Spray focus: Application methods the hot topics at SPot West field day

Image result for chemical sprayer potatoesThe first field walk of SPot West’s 2018 programme organized by AHDB Potatoes in the UK focussed on chemical control of PCN and Rhizoctonia as growers and agronomists met at Heal Farms, Shropshire to hear the latest developments on local research. Dr Matthew Back of Harper Adams University presented his research, which has shown that PCN attack helps attract the Rhizoctonia fungus towards the tuber stolons. A second demonstration compared different methods and depths of incorporating Nemathorin. The strip with incorporation to about 15cm on the bed tiller looked relatively good, but this could have been due to local variation, and treatment differences will become more apparent as the season continues. PCN initial egg counts range from 25-63, quite enough to stress Lady Rosetta in the current heat wave. Scott Cockburn of Syngenta led on a practical spraying demonstration. RVW Pugh kindly provided a Fendt sprayer, which compared four different types of nozzle at 2bar pressure. Read more

All about sustainability: Lamb Weston / Meijer supports potato growers with sustainable development plan

Sustainable potato production with healthy yields. This is the objective with which Lamb Weston / Meijer wants to support the company’s contract growers. This is why the Dutch based potato processor developed a comprehensive ‘Sustainable Agriculture’ plan in collaboration with the Center for Agriculture and Environment (CLM) in the Netherlands, which is now being turned into practice in collaboration with contract growers. The Sustainable Agriculture plan was launched this year in the Netherlands and will be rolled out internationally in the coming years. On Tuesday, July 10, Lamb Weston / Meijer officially presented its Sustainable Agriculture Plan to the outside world at the arable crops farm ‘Monnikenhof’ of grower Arnold Timmerman in Kattendijke, Zeeland. The central theme of Sustainable Agriculture is soil health. “That is the core of this plan, which is aimed at making sustainable agriculture commercially feasible,” says Dirk Peters, agronomist at Lamb Weston / Meijer. Read more

IPM: A powerful tool that offers protection for potato growers

Integrated strategies offer the strongest protection for potato growersGrowers who practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can positively impact their crop production and their bottom line. Integrated strategies offer the strongest protection for potato growers, who need a complete plan for combating every element that threatens their crop. Managing obvious threats like insects, nematodes, diseases, and weeds are often at the forefront of IPM tactics, but taking steps to monitor water management and crop rotation are also important in keeping potatoes healthy and in maximizing yield and quality. Additional components like knowing field history and developing a successful treatment plan help to fortify a successful IPM plan. As growers work at managing everything, they take the power of new technology and put it to work with age-old growing practices. It’s the careful orchestration of each of these things that makes Integrated Pest Management a success. Growers should consider the following best practices for a successful IPM program… Read more

Global demand for controlled-release fertilizers growing

Image result for slow-release specialty fertilizers potatoesThe global market demand for controlled- and slow-release specialty fertilizers is growing significantly. Global demand for these specialty fertilizers (called CRFs or SRFs) is expected to grow to at a rate of nearly six percent during the period of 2017 to 2022, according to the IHS Markit Chemical Economics Handbook: Controlled- and Slow-Release Fertilizers Report. They are more environmentally friendly than conventional commercial fertilizers because they release nutrients to the plants more slowly over time. As a result, less fertilizer is required over time. In addition to increasing crop yields, the use of these CRFs and SRFs also improve plant health and viability, including the reduction of nutrient losses that occur between application and uptake by the plant, the reduction of toxicity (reduced salt index), particularly to seedlings. Read more