Tech Tuesday

Innovation and Sustainability

No question, farmers are deploying new tech to get more out of every acre. And we offer a data-saving update.

In this job I get to attend a lot of high-level events where companies or universities bring in a range of experts to discuss a specific topic. It's an enjoyable part of my job. Last week BASF, the crop protection company, hosted a Media Summit where essentially the key topics were sustainability and innovation. No question, the two will have to go hand in hand if we're going to succeed in feeding folks in the future.

During a panel discussion at the event, moderated by our friend and colleague Max Armstrong, there were some interesting ideas thrown about. But the take-home for me, and I believe for my readers, is that you are getting more from less, or more from more.

You understand what I mean about getting more from less. More bushels from less irrigation water, for example. Or more acreage planted with less fuel. But what about more from more?

Turns out we're using less fertilizer per bushel of corn than we did just a decade ago but the raw N use is on the rise - because you're producing more per acre. These are numbers that are hard to define and measure, but if you look at total N used versus total bushels produced you'll find that nitrogen use per bushel is falling. Those nay sayers who claim you're piling on the fertilizer and it's just running off aren't paying attention.

The key is understanding the true potential. When corn yields were 73 bushels per acre in the mid-1970s did you foresee 166 bushel per acre averages (that's what USDA thinks will happen this year).

During the panel, a California almond grower - Dave Long, Hilltop Ranch, California, explained that he was producing about 1,250 pounds of almonds per acre from his operation and that number has grown to 2,600 pounds but water use is down by 30%. In essence, for the same gallon of water he's getting 2.5 times the result. "We went from flood irrigation to more precise ways to reduce water use," Long says.

Adds Indiana Grower Brent Bible: "We're using 5% less crop chemicals simply by using GPS technology and swath control to be more precise and exact in our application."

That's how technology and sustainability work hand in hand. Defining sustainability as a "chemical free" approach isn't realistic. However, combining technology, management and innovation, farmers will get closer to the genetic yield potential for every crop out there.

Fred Below, University of Illinois plant physiologist, who was on the panel, has long said the potential crop yield for corn is far beyond what we're achieving. His work to hit 300 bushels shows what's possible. Long, that almond grower, says an acre of trees could produce up to 6,000 pounds, and he's working on ways to get there.

Looks like feeding the 9 billion by 2050 is possible, but we're going to have to match the best innovation ideas with an eye toward sustainability too. That'll be your biggest challenge - incorporating new tech, but keeping an eye on sustainability, environmental impact (that means on you too - think weed resistance management). Doing that will put your operation ahead in the race to the future.

Followup on an idea - data storage

Last week I talked about using the cloud or online backup services to protect your valuable information. And from that I got an interesting email about a product you might find interesting. A company called ioSafe contacted me about its super-protected hard drive systems.

They pointed out that those cloud storage services add up if you're spending the per-month fee (you might call that insurance) and they offer a different alternative that has a one-time up front cost. These guys make external hard drives that are both fire and waterproof.

In fact, their fireproof guarantee would protect the hard drive for up to a half-hour at 1,550 degrees F - so essentially in the heart of the fire. What you get out of the fire is a charred box, but if you dig into the box, you'll find the hard drive as if it had never been touched. The company would help with moving that data - or connecting that hard drive to your computer to get at your files.

If you have a slow data connection - and face it some "high-speed" connections are still slow - you might not relish the idea of backing up information to the cloud. This ioSafe drive might be an option. I've embedded a YouTube video where a tech reporter put that drive to the test. You can go to the company's website for more information -they even offer a top-of-the-line crush proof drive for $1,499. It's an interesting idea for sure.

Enjoy the test video.

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