February 2015

February 23rd, 2015

"In Iowa, there's a 3,000-acre farm that uses machines to accomplish most tasks, from seeding to fertilizing and chemical application. This land, owned by the Mitchell family, is known as one of the most mechanized farms in the United States, and it's far from being unique. The Mitchells and their equally high-tech neighbors are some of the top corn producers in the US, thanks to their machines. But more and more farmers in the country are also turning to agricultural robots, as laborers start dwindling in number and demands for crops and produce continue to grow. After all, they need all the help they can get to feed millions of people, since it's just not feasible to farm by hand anymore as it was a hundred years ago. Seeing as the US population has grown by 22.5 percent between 1990 (an estimated 250 million) and 2010 (310 million), and the Census Bureau expects it to balloon to more than 420 million in 2050, you can expect to see more robots doing the dirty work on more American farms.

The Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, divides agricultural robots into three generations. The first gen is comprised of basic ones that can collect data, while the second-gen bots are capable of harvesting, seeding, spraying and cultivating. Finally, the third and most advanced generation is comprised of autonomous robots capable of caring for plants without (or with minimal) human intervention. As you can see below, American farms already use machines from across three generations, though most of the ones that fall under the third are still in development."

Read more from Engadget

February 20th, 2015

"The nation’s top nutritional panel is recommending for the first time that Americans consider the impact on the environment when they are choosing what to eat, a move that defied a warning from Congress and, if enacted, could discourage people from eating red meat.

Members of Congress had sought in December to keep the group from even discussing the issue, asserting that while advising the government on federal dietary guidelines, the committee should steer clear of extraneous issues and stick to nutritional advice.

But the panel’s findings, issued Thursday in the form of a 571-page report, recommended that Americans be kinder to the environment by eating more foods derived from plants and fewer foods that come from animals. Red meat is deemed particularly harmful because of, among other things, the amount of land and feed required in its production.

“Consistent evidence indicates that, in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with lesser environmental impact than is the current average U.S. diet,” the report says.

The environmental recommendations are part of a report meant to provide the scientific basis for the next version of the Dietary Guidelines, the federal government’s publication on what to eat. The Department of Health and Human Services and the Agriculture Department will issue the guidelines later this year."

Read more from The Washington Post


February 18th, 2015

Learn More! Participate! Spread the word!

Please view ResponisbleAg's new video on Youtube.

Learn more about ResponsibleAg here.

February 18th, 2015

The AFVP launched a video calling on fertilizer experts to volunteer their time, knowledge and expertise in Africa.

Please view the video on YouTube.

February 9th, 2015

"Let’s start small. We depend on bees to pollinate plants that account for about one-third of the world’s food supply, but since 2006 bee colonies in the United States have been dying off at an unprecedented rate. More recently, the same “colony collapse disorder” has appeared in China, Egypt and Japan.

Many suspect that the main cause is a widely used type of pesticides called neonicotinoids, but the evidence is not yet conclusive. The fact remains that one-third of the American bee population has disappeared in the past decade. If the losses spread and deepen, we may face serious food shortages.

Then there’s peak fertilizer, or more precisely peak phosphate rock. Phosphorus is a critical ingredient of fertilizer, and it is the eightfold increase in the use of fertilizers that has enabled us to triple food production worldwide from about the same area of land in the past 60 years.

At the moment we are mining about 200 million tonnes of phosphate rock a year, and the global reserve that could be mined at a reasonable cost with current technology is estimated at about 16 billion tonnes. At the current level of production it won’t run out entirely for 80 years, but the increasing demand for fertilizers to feed the growing population means that phosphate production is rising fast.

As with peak oil, the really important date is not when there are no economically viable phosphate rock reserves left, but when production starts to fall. Peak phosphate is currently no more than 40 years away — or much less, if fertilizer use continues to grow. After that, it’s back to organic fertilizers, which mainly means the urine and feces of 10 billion or 12 billion human beings and their domesticated animals. Good luck with that.

Peak soil is a trickier notion, but it derives from the more concrete concept that we are “mining” the soil: degrading and exhausting it by growing single-crop “monocultures,” using too much fertilizer and irrigating too enthusiastically, all in the name of higher crop yields."

Read more from The Telegram.

February 2nd, 2015

"In 2013, I made my first trip to Ethiopia. Knowing a bit about the country’s economic circumstances, I fully expected the grim poverty that I’d later encounter. After all, like millions of Americans, I watched the devastating famine there unfold on television in the 1980s.

At the same time, Ethiopia has made great strides since then. Ethiopia halved the number of its undernourished people from 75 percent to 35 percent in two decades, according to the United Nations. Still, that 35 percent is considerable – the U.N.’s World Food Programme estimates that 3.2 million Ethiopians need food relief assistance.

So imagine my surprise when I entered a restroom in a small town outside Addis, the capital, and found sensorized urinals – the kind that self-flush. I don’t normally notice urinals, but in Ethiopia, where electricity and indoor plumbing are unreliable at best, sensorized urinals catch your attention. To find something as relatively advanced as a sensorized machine in a small Ethiopian town doesn’t necessarily say much about the country; but it says a lot about the machine.

In particular, it illustrates the potential of sensors and how they could hold the key to significantly reducing the world’s hunger problem. Sensors are everywhere and in everything, at least in developed nations such as the United States. They’ve revolutionized our mobile phones, and are now powering the next wave of wearable tech devices. Sensors are the reason the automotive industry is poised to deliver a driverless car.

The best thing about sensors, aside from their potential? They’re dirt cheap. The average smartphone holds five to seven sensors that cost about $5 combined. In 2007, an accelerometer, which comes standard in all smartphones today, cost $7 — now it costs less than 50 cents. The steep price decline, which has been in place since the early 1990s, is a function of strong competition in the smartphone arena and the growing number of applications using sensor technology. But nothing mandates that sensors are for smartphones only."

Read more from The Washington Post.

February 2nd, 2015

"It was 8 degrees in Minneapolis on a recent January day, and out on Interstate 394, snow whipped against the windshields of drivers on their morning commutes. But inside the offices of Cargill, the food conglomerate, Greg Page, the company’s executive chairman, felt compelled to talk about global warming.

“It would be irresponsible not to contemplate it,” Mr. Page said, bundled up in a wool sport coat layered over a zip-up sweater. “I’m 63 years old, and I’ve grown up in the upper latitudes. I’ve seen too much change to presume we might not get more.”

Mr. Page is not a typical environmental activist. He says he doesn’t know — or particularly care — whether human activity causes climate change. He doesn’t give much serious thought to apocalyptic predictions of unbearably hot summers and endless storms.

But over the last nine months, he has lobbied members of Congress and urged farmers to take climate change seriously. He says that over the next 50 years, if nothing is done, crop yields in many states will most likely fall, the costs of cooling chicken farms will rise and floods will more frequently swamp the railroads that transport food in the United States. He wants American agribusiness to be ready.

Mr. Page is a member of the Risky Business Project, an unusual collection of business and policy leaders determined to prepare American companies for climate change. It’s a prestigious club, counting a former senator, five former White House cabinet members, two former mayors and two billionaires in the group. The 10 men and women who serve on the governing committee don’t agree on much. Some are Democrats, some Republicans.

Even when it comes to dealing with climate change, they have very different perspectives. Some advocate a national carbon tax, some want to mandate companies to disclose their climate risks. Mr. Page suggests that the world may be able to get by without any mandatory rules at all. Some members want to push investors to divest from fossil fuel companies. Several favor construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, while one member has spent more than $1 million lobbying to stop it. But they all do agree on one issue: Shifts in weather over the next few decades will most likely cost American companies hundreds of billions of dollars, and they have no choice but to adapt."

Read more from The New York Times.