GMO IS OLD NEWS: WHAT ABOUT CRISPR?

After summarizing the new proposed laws on GMO labeling on Tuesday, today I’m challenging you to learn about a new way scientists are making our food safer and looking ahead to helping manage food allergens. This technology could even help us cure cancer.

CRISPER stands for Clustered Regularly Inter-paced Short Palindromic Repeats. It sounds super complicated, but check out this video which makes it look pretty simple.

UTICA FARMER USES HIGH TECH DATA TO IMPROVE FAMILY FARM

Justin Durdan is a younger farmer, father of four, and volunteer farmer leader for the Illinois Corn Growers Association.  Numbers, data and analysis get him really excited about the future of his Utica family farm and what he can leave for his children. 

ME: Hi Justin!  Tell me a little bit about you and your farm.

JUSTIN: I’m working a multi-generational farm in LaSalle County.  My priority tasks on our farm are to handle relationships with our banks and landowners, and also to handle our finances and our books.  Of course, during planting and harvest, I’m definitely taking my turn on the tractor or in the combine as well.

My wife and I have four kids.  I’m working hard every day because I love it, but also because I’m hoping to build something I can pass off to them someday.

ME: I hear that you are a numbers guy.  What sort of analysis are you doing to benefit your farm?

JUSTIN: Weekly, I’m looking at budget to actuals – which means that I’m checking to see if we applied the budgeted amounts of inputs or if we’re over or under.  And I’m also watching to make sure that we’re recording data during the growing season that will be valuable to us later.  If every pass through the field isn’t recorded, I can’t analyze it later and make us better farmers.

ME: Tell me more.

JUSTIN: As an example, during the growing season, we’re recording every fertilizer application on every field.  We’re applying variable rates, which means that each location within the field is going to get a specific amount equal to what that location needs.  If, when I’m applying fertilizer, I’m not recording that or there’s an error with the technology, if leaves a gap in my data.

ME: Pretty high tech.  What other sorts of data and analysis are you doing?

JUSTIN: Now that we’ve been recording all our information for long enough, I’m able to check out our fields, applications, management and such on a year over year basis.  What gets interesting is to group three or four years of information together and get a good feel for productivity and profitability on a farm.

ME: How do you think these pieces of data change the way you farm?

JUSTIN: I think that every time we’re making management decisions for each field, we have information telling us what fertilizer to apply, how much to apply, what the seed density should be, etc. 

Basically, we have all this information now that helps us make better decisions.  Before the data was available, we made the best decision we could make based on our memory of the past year.  Now, we can see hard data on the productivity of this specific section and how much fertilizer we applied there for the last four years and we make a very informed decision about what to put on that section this year.  Our farm management is much better informed.

ME: Do all farmers operate this way?  Are all farmers using and analyzing the same data?

JUSTIN: There’s a lot of room to grow here and I think suppliers could provide more service in this area to help other farmers acquire the data, analyze it, and apply it to their fields.  We are lucky because on our family farm, this is just something that I really get into and I really focus on.  But not every farm has a data geek. 

ME: What’s agriculture look like down the road with this data and even more available?

JUSTIN: I think having all this data available makes farmers more competitive locally.  As an example, if you’re a young farmer looking to expand your farm and rent more acres, you can get an estimate of soil productivity and gage what your budget and potential cash rent offer could be without even setting foot on the farm.  That gives you a leg up. 

Knowing all this without seeing the farm is also scary.  But this is the world we’re living in now and I think we can either ignore the data available or we can use it to our advantage and get better.  I hope I’m helping our family farm to get better.

I also love the idea that I’m leaving digital records and data points for my kids, if they want to take over the farm.  When I started farming, there was just no way for me to pull everything in my dad’s head out and to make use of it.  Now, I have digital files for my kids to pull and analyze.  I think having this knowledge will make them better when they are ready to take over the farm and set them ahead of where we started out in previous generations.

WHY GROW GMOs?

GMOs are created to achieve a desired trait, such as resistance to a pest or tolerance to drought conditions.  The 10 genetically modified crops available in the U.S. today include: alfalfa, apples, canola, corn (field and sweet), cotton, papaya, potatoes, soybeans, squash and sugar beets.

GM crops were created for:

GMOs are drought tolerant
  • Insect resistance. This category of traits provides farmers with season-long protection against target pests, reduces the need for pesticide applications, and lowers input costs.
  • Drought tolerance. GM crops that express drought tolerance have better moisture retention and can better endure drought conditions without the need for additional irrigation.
  • Herbicide tolerance. Crops developed to tolerate specific herbicides allow farmers to fight weeds by applying targeted herbicides only when needed and enable them to use conservation tillage production methods that preserve topsoil, prevent erosion, and reduce carbon emissions.
  • Disease resistance. Through genetic engineering plant breeders can enable plants to resist certain diseases, like the papaya ringspot virus (PRSV).  The GM Rainbow Papaya, developed to be resistant to PRSV, allowed Hawaiian papaya farmers to recover from an outbreak of this devastating disease that crippled their industry.
  • Enhanced nutritional content. Genetically modified soybeans with an enhanced oil profile, much like olive oil, have been developed and are longer lasting and trans-fat free.
  • Reduced food waste. Genetic engineering has been used to modify potatoes and apples in order to eliminate superficial browning and bruising (potato only) when the produce is cut or handled.  These traits can help reduce the amount of produce thrown away by producers, processors, retailers and consumers.
  • Improved manufacturing processes. Certain biotech corn varieties enable more efficient biofuels production by improving the process through which cellulose and/or starch is broken down and converted to fuel.  This helps reduce the environmental impact of the manufacturing process by decreasing the amount of water, electricity, and natural gas needed to produce biofuel.

Source: GMO Answers

FARM TECHNOLOGY: IT’S ABOUT MORE THAN CONVENIENCE

The history of my farm goes back generations, and we’ve always had the same goal: To make an honest and sustainable living while caring for the environment to ensure a great future for generations to come. The way we have achieved that goal has changed in the last few decades. Modern technology gives me an edge that my father and grandfather didn’t have when growing crops. Farmers use different types of technology, and each person uses what’s right for them. On my farm, this is what works and helps me grow sustainable food.

GPS

Just like when you’re in your car, GPS links to our tractors and combine to guide us through the field with more precision than before and helps us track information with each pass. After a field is completely harvested this fall, I will download the data from the combine and upload it into my laptop so I can analyze the information and come up with a plan for cover crops, fertilizer and planting next spring.

Drones

Aside from the cool factor, drones collect data that allow us to better care for the plants and the land where they grow. The technology allows us to scout – or monitor – our fields in a matter of minutes instead of hours. Click here to read more about how drones improve sustainability on my farm.

The Cloud

All that information I collect goes directly to the cloud. I can pull up the information whenever I need it on my iPad or smart phone. In the spring, I’ll use the collected data and an app on my iPad to control the planter and apply fertilizer and pesticides only where we need them.

New farm technology is exciting, but it’s about more than convenience and gadgets. By using this technology, we will continue to be able to feed more people with less environmental impact, which is absolutely vital to the future of our planet.

MATT BOUCHER

Matt lives and farms in Dwight, IL with his wife and their three children.

View this post as originally presented at watchusgrow.org 

5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT FARMING

Originally published by BestFoodFacts.org

Cows and chickens, fields of corn, a big red barn, green tractors and dusty jeans – these are just a few of the images that come to mind when people hear the word “farming.” But for today’s farmers, there is much more to agriculture than meets the eye. We spoke with three farmers for their insights on how and why they’re committed to producing safe, nutritious and affordable food.

Here are five things we learned:

1. Most farms are owned and operated by families.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture shows that 97 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family-owned operations. Most farmers would tell you that working with their family is key to why they are so passionate about what they do.

“The biggest misconception I’ve heard would be that, as farms have gotten bigger, they have been labeled as factory farms. That we just use the land and move on. Yet, every farmer I know is very family-oriented. I love that our farm is something I can pass on to my family, a legacy, a business and a way of life that my kids love,” said William Layton, a third-generation Maryland farmer and owner of Layton’s Chance Vineyards and Winery.

Jenny Rhodes, University of Maryland Extension Educator in Agriculture and Natural Resources, who owns and operates a grain and broiler chicken farm with her family, said, “I love the whole family aspect and wanted my children to grow up the way I did. Instead of rushing home to spend a few hours with my family, we can spend time together working together. We are all family farms and at the end of the day it’s families working.”

2. Farming is efficient because it is high tech.
Farmers use technology to make advances in producing more food that is more safe, affordable, and produced more efficiently than ever before. Layton said, “Many people have an idea of the old-fashioned farmer, but in reality I spend half of my time in the office making GPS maps for what is going on in the field at any given point. We also have tractors that drive themselves, so we are very technology-based, and technology creates efficiency.”

“Everything you do in farming has to be efficient and sustainable and I love working to improve the resources on our farm so that we can do that,” explained Jenny Schmidt, a registered dietitian and Maryland farmer, whose family produces corn, soybeans, wheat, barley, hay, tomatoes, green beans and wine grapes. “When I talk to people about pesticide usage on our farm, I explain that our sprayer for our tomatoes, green beans, wheat, corn and soybeans sprays at the rate of 15-20 gallons per acre for herbicides. It is a 750-gallon tank so using 15 gallons per acre, this sprayer can cover 50 acres per tank – that’s only 0.04 ounces per square foot. This type of efficiency wouldn’t be possible without technology. Also, many people think we are dousing our fields with pesticides, but that would be inefficient. Spraying isn’t dousing.” Learn more about how the “dose makes the poison” in pesticide usage in “Should You Be Concerned with Pesticides On Produce?”.

3. Farmers are passionate about producing food.
“The thing that I love most about farming is working hard and seeing the results of that hard work. At harvest, I love quitting at dark after a 14-hour day and seeing all that I’ve harvested right in front of me. It’s a great feeling to see that,” said Layton.

“Farming is a passionate job and requires patience to weather through the ups and downs. Ultimately, I love being able to care for the soil and land with the available resources and set the stage for the next generation,” said Schmidt.

Farming is a lifestyle, not just a job. It is 24 hours a day, seven days a week and every day of the year! (Yes, this means vacations are nearly impossible to take!)

4. Farmers use a variety of production methods.
Debates about “organic” and “conventional” crops suggest there are only two ways to grow food: a “good” way and a “bad” way. But an important question to think about is, “What is the best way to feed a growing population, while reducing the amount of resources required?” To address this, farming will need multiple approaches, not just one.

“Many farmers don’t want to be seen as one thing; for me, I want to be seen as both holistic and sustainable. For example, there are trade-offs with all production methods. And each provide different benefits: it’s not an either/or, it’s more about melding the practices together,” added Schmidt. Want to learn more about organic versus conventional? Check out “Organic versus Conventional Foods: Is There a Nutritional Difference?”.

5. There are many ways to become involved with agriculture.
Farm and ranch families make up just two percent of the U.S. population, while most people are at least three generations removed from agriculture. However, the farmers we chatted with all agreed that getting involved in agriculture is for everyone.

Rhodes said it’s important to know what your goal is: Do you want to learn more? Do you want to own your own farm? “After you figure out your goals, then you can decide how to reach them through things like farm tours, working with different national councils, talking with your University extension programs and, of course, talking with the farmers in your area.”

“Social media is a great place to start and to seek out transparent farmers if you have questions about food. I love sharing information about my farm and interesting news articles that are related to the happenings on my farm,” Schmidt added.

Layton concluded, “Agritourism, corn mazes, farm stands, community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, farmers markets – these are all ways to connect with farmers. Talk with the farmers – they are happy to chat with you! I give tours twice a day every day at the winery and people ask questions not only about the grapes and wines but about our crops, too. I love answering these questions.”

Our food supply is abundant, affordable overall and among the world’s safest, thanks in large part to the efficiency and productivity of America’s farm and ranch families. Want to learn more about growing food? Reach out to a local farmer or let us know and we can connect you with one!

DID YOU KNOW GMOs PROTECT THE ENVIRONMENT?

Many misconceptions might fuel the belief that GMO crops aren’t environmentally sustainable, but in reality many of the practices often affiliated with sustainable farming are used with GMO crops.

Fewer pesticide applications, conservation tillage (which reduces greenhouse gas emissions) and water conservation are all practices that can be used with GMO crops.

Find out more at GMO Answers!

TECHNOLOGY IN AGRICULTURE: GPS & AUTO-STEER

Technology helps us in a variety of realms, with farming being one of the most important ones for consumers. A program that aligns with technology that assists us all on a daily basis is auto-steer, which works like a GPS system in the fields. Through the use of GPS tracking and recording equipment, farmers were able to track and take note of the way they utilized the equipment manually, and this data drove the success of auto-steering (literally). Some of the many benefits include:

  1. Advanced positioning that prevents overlapping between passes or lands.

This allows farmers to reduce seed loss, and it allows them to work more productively and efficiently. With this efficient system, farmers can spend less time in the field while still maintaining high levels of production.

  1. Automatic adjusting in different directions.

Just like we want our cars to manually drive for us and gauge which direction to move in on its own, farmers wanted the same. With auto-steer, they are able to dedicate their attention to other farm duties and obligations. This allows a farmer to be more relaxed, and it increases productivity in other aspects because the focus no longer revolves around steering manually.

  1. Controlled traffic.

While we all hate traffic for our own personal reasons, it is especially bad in farming because it can cause compaction, which is when soil particles are pressed together and pore space is reduced. This causes reduced rates of water infiltration and drainage from the compacted layer. This can lead to many problems, such as flooding and lack of water being absorbed.

Much less seed is being wasted, which helps everyone save money and makes for a much more efficient and productive system!

  1. Higher yields of production.

 Auto-steer reduces depreciation and wear and tear on machinery, and it also prevents doubling or missing chemical applications, which all result in reduced yields.

In the end, auto-steer brings farming to a whole new level of effectiveness. Interestingly enough, farming technology aligns significantly with the technology we use in our everyday lives. As technology continues to grow in agriculture, the quality of our food continues to improve with it. The work of farmers goes hand in hand with the happiness and health of people all around the world. It is important that we understand the role it plays in the fields, regardless of which field we’re in!

Samantha Gorlovetsky
University of Illinois

TECHNOLOGY IMPACTING AGRICULTURE: GRAIN YIELD MONITORS

The world is constantly changing. New technology is introduced daily that makes people’s lives easier. The agriculture industry specifically uses new technology in many ways. Farming technology has come a long way from the horse and steel plow to autosteer tractors. Farmers take advantage of technology to help them be successful.

One specific piece of technology that helps farmers is a grain yield monitor. {Insert picture of grain yield monitor} A grain yield monitor is a device with sensors that calculates and records the crop yield or grain yield as the combine operates. The monitor measures the harvested grain mass flow, moisture content, and speed to determine how much grain is being harvested.

A grain yield monitor can be very beneficial to a farmer. Jeff Austman, a farmer from Livingston County, shared with me his thoughts on technology in agriculture and how it has helped his farming operation succeed. “I started farming in 1993 with minimal technology.” As time progressed and new technology emerged, Austman began using a grain yield monitor. The yield monitor collects data while the combine is running and automatically sends the yield map to Austman’s iPad for him to analyze.

By looking at the yield map, Austman discovered that a pond hole was causing lower yields in one part of the field. To fix the problem, he tiled the area. “By tiling that specific area,” explained Austman, “yields increased so much that the tiling project was almost completely paid off in one year.” The grain yield monitor allowed him to find areas that brought in the highest yields but also allowed him to improve areas that were less productive.

Austman is just one the of many farmers across the United States using technology in his farming operation. Technology plays a key role in enabling farmers to farm successfully. As time goes on, more and more technology will be introduced that will allow farmers to continue improving their operations.

Laine Honneger
University of Illinois

TAKE A VIRTUAL TOUR OF A FARMING SEASON

It’s the day after Christmas and we’re already thinking about the next farming season. Want to know what goes into a farming season in just a few short minutes? Check out virtual video series on farming!

#360Corn is a series of 360-degree videos featuring our own Illinois corn farmer, Justin Durdan.  Justin lets us plant corn with him, spray for pests, fertilize those little baby corn plants, and even harvest and sell his crop – all while we can look 360 degrees around the tractor cab, the farm and even the field.

Check out the entire experience here.