Corn

Can Data-Driven Agriculture Help Feed a Hungry World?

Publication: Yale Environment 360   Date: March 3, 2016   View Article

From Bonneville County, Idaho, to Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, tablet-toting agronomists with Anheuser-Busch InBev — the world’s largest brewer by volume — are visiting farmers who grow the company’s malt barley, a key ingredient in beer. These meetings are a decades-old ritual: Growers review contracts as agronomists offer advice on ways to maximize productivity and profitability. Only these days the conversations are increasingly steered by a computer app called SmartBarley that farmers use to log details on more than 40 variables that affect barley production, such as variety planted, soil type, and tillage method, along with applications of water, fertilizer, and pesticides. Growers use the platform to compare their practices and yields with other farmers who operate in similar soil and climate conditions.

The program is one of many agribusiness-led initiatives to harness the bits and bytes of data that increasingly are being used in agriculture worldwide to boost efficiency and profits, while simultaneously lowering the environmental impact of agriculture. Other agribusinesses that market data-crunching farm-management tools include seed company Monsanto, chemical company DuPont, and precision-irrigation company Valley Irrigation. FarmLink, which leases combines, recently entered the data game with TrueHarvest, a yield comparison tool that leverages data collected by its fleet of farm machinery to help farmers fine-tune their operations to maximize yield and profit.

For now, using big data to improve agricultural productivity is largely centered in the developed world. But sustainable agriculture and development specialists are working to expand access to important agricultural data to the hundreds of millions of small farmers in the developing world. Already, in an effort to improve yields and profits, farmers in places such as sub-Saharan Africa and India are using mobile phones to exchange information about weather, disease, and market prices. And these trends are only expected to grow as information technology spreads. Meanwhile, big data advocates argue that smaller farmers stand to benefit from data-driven agricultural advances, such as improved crop varieties.

Field of (Bad) Dreams: Increased Drought Takes Tool on Midwest Corn

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 1, 2014   View Article

Across the Midwest, a cold and wet spring has slowed the pace of corn plantings — as of Monday 19 percent was in the ground versus the usual 28 percent for this time of year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The slow start could slash yields. In the future, hotter and drier conditions due to global warming could also put a dent in corn yields, according to a new study.

The research is based on field data from more than 1 million federal crop insurance records between 1995 and 2012 and correlated with fine-scale weather data. It shows that while corn yields in the Midwest have steadily risen, the staple grain is also growing more sensitive to drought. About 80 percent of the corn grown in the Midwest is dryland. If it doesn’t rain, there is no water.

Increasingly Similar Global Food Supply Poses Risks, Study Says

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 3, 2014   View Article

The same crops that have fed a rapidly expanding global population over the last 50 years may pose problems for the global food chain as pests and limited diets spread, according to a new study.

Crops such as wheat, corn, potato, and soybean, as well as meat and dairy products make up a bulk of the world’s diet today. Meanwhile, once regionally important crops such as millet, sorghum and yams are losing ground, explained Colin Khoury, a visiting research scientist at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Cali, Colombia, and the study’s lead author.

“It is not all bad, but there are some very significant implications on both the agricultural side and on the nutritional side,” he told NBC News.

Crop yields plateau as demand for food soars, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: December 17, 2013   View Article

On about one-third of the world’s agricultural lands, farmers have maxed out the amount of rice, wheat and corn they can grow, according to a new study. The finding suggests a limit to the benefits of the so-called green revolution and portends hard work ahead to feed ever more, and more affluent, people.

A side effect of the plateauing — and in some instances, declining — crop yields is that more land will be required to meet food demand, as can be seen in the 8 percent expansion of agriculture area since 2002, much of it into rain forests, wetlands and grasslands, the study found.

Move over corn, a new source of ethanol is in town

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 1, 2013   View Article

Commercial quantities of the alternative fuel ethanol are being produced from wood waste and other vegetative matter, a chemical company announced Wednesday. The milestone holds potential to curb the controversial practice of using corn kernels to brew the fuel that is commonly mixed with gasoline.

Several companies have been racing in recent years to develop the technology required to produce ethanol from cellulose — the woody parts of plants — and many are close to firing up commercial facilities. INEOS Bio is at the finish line.

Want to save the planet? Ditch meat, study says

Publication: NBC News   Date: June 19, 2013   View Article

A shift to plant-based diets is one strategy to help the world meet its food demands by the year 2050, according to a new study that says crop yields are improving too slowly to satisfy meat-eaters’ appetites.

“That is a very optimistic part” of the paper, lead author Deepak Ray, with the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, told NBC News.

Eternal youth: A fix for biofuels

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: October 11, 2011   View Article

The push to wean the biofuel industry off its heavy diet of corn may, ironically, involve transferring a corn gene to non-corn plants such as switch grass, suggests a new study.

The gene, called Corngrass 1, essentially locks the switch grass into a state of perpetual pre-adolescence, explained George Chuck, a plant molecular geneticist at the University of California at Berkeley.

“One of the consequences of staying juvenile forever is they don’t flower, they don’t become sexually mature,” he said.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach