November 16, 2016

Agricultural and Environmental Progress

By Chelsea Follett
For food producers in Anchorage Alaska, advances in hydroponics are helping with food production. In a landscape too cold for most crops, farmers are using old shipping containers, lights and soil free farming, referred to as hydroponics, in order to grow food. This allows consumers to avoid the costs involved with shipping produce from the lower 48 states. The company “Arctic Greens” produces kale, lettuce, and other greens, all by overcoming environmental difficulties via technological innovation.  

GM technology and its ability to increase yields have been increasingly criticized. One of the major GMO critiques is that current foods have not been modified in order to maximize yields; rather they are intended to increase herbicide or insect resistance.  All of this may be about to change. A new type of GM wheat is getting ready for field trials. This crop has been created in order to enhance the naturally occurring process of photosynthesis and utilize increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere in order to increase growth. These crops have the potential to utilize changes to the climate to increase yields while reducing land use in order to lessen agriculture’s impact on the environment.

Digital technology has reduced reliance on paper. However, paper is still needed in certain contexts. Now there may be an alternative that reduces waste and environmental impact. By using a flexible membrane that changes color when exposed to ultraviolet light, researchers have developed a reusable paper alternative that can hold the printed color for days after ‘printing’. This process can be repeated around 40 times without a loss in resolution, making it a viable alternative to paper that can reduce office’s and other organization’s impact on the environment. 

Much of the technology in the IdaBot, which is designed for use in orchards, is not new. Like other agriculture robots, this one can spray for weeds, determine the health of plants and is remotely monitored. What is new is the yield estimator, which developers are currently working on. This component will be integrated with the IdaBot by a downloadable application. Being able to accurately predict yields will enable farmers to pre-sell their produce months in advance. Additionally, it will allow them to better predict labor requirements for harvests, and help the orchards to run more efficiently.

Plants have access to a great deal of information about their environment due to their vast root networks. The problem lies in being able to transform this information into something humans can interpret. Researchers have addressed this by combing plants and electronic systems. Inserting nanotubes on leaves enables the plants to detect the presence of certain chemicals and ‘communicate’ this information by omitting signals, which can be detected by an infrared camera. This information can range from detecting landmines and pollution to predicting droughts. The combination of plants and technology has the potential to harness nature and science in order to improve the lives of people all over the globe. 

Data metrics is a major component of farming technology. Through this information, farmers are able to better manage their fields as well as learn how to breed plants for better yields in the future. The PheNode is a crop phenotyping system that runs through solar power. This system takes metrics from the environment and plant growth in order to aid in creating the best combination of crops for the environment. Technologies such as these aid farmers by providing them with information in order to maximize agriculture productivity and minimize unnecessary environmental strains.