Skip to content Skip to navigation

Agriculture News

Robots fight weeds in challenge to agrochemical giants

Reuters | Posted on May 22, 2018

In a field of sugar beet in Switzerland, a solar-powered robot that looks like a table on wheels scans the rows of crops with its camera, identifies weeds and zaps them with jets of blue liquid from its mechanical tentacles. Undergoing final tests before the liquid is replaced with weedkiller, the Swiss robot is one of new breed of AI weeders that investors say could disrupt the $100 billion pesticides and seeds industry by reducing the need for universal herbicides and the genetically modified (GM) crops that tolerate them. Dominated by companies such as Bayer, DowDuPont, BASF and Syngenta, the industry is bracing for the impact of digital agricultural technology and some firms are already adapting their business models. The stakes are high. Herbicide sales are worth $26 billion a year and account for 46 percent of pesticides revenue overall while 90 percent of GM seeds have some herbicide tolerance built in, according to market researcher Phillips McDougall.

Oregon lawmakers mull preventing ‘too big to fail’ livestock operations

Capital Press | Posted on May 22, 2018

he regulatory problems facing a controversial Oregon dairy have raised questions among lawmakers about avoiding “too big to fail” livestock operations in the future. Negative publicity has continued to mount for Lost Valley Farm of Boardman, Ore., which in 2018 has faced a $10,600 fine, a lawsuit filed by state farm regulators and financial troubles resulting in bankruptcy proceedings.The 7,300-acre farm is home to nearly 14,000 head of cattle.The Senate Interim Committee on Environment and Natural Resources summoned the state’s top agriculture and water regulators for a legislative hearing on May 21 to begin analyzing what went wrong.

US winter wheat forecast down amid drought, surplus

Capital Press | Posted on May 17, 2018

U.S. farmers are expected to harvest their smallest winter wheat crop in more than a decade amid an ongoing drought that has devastated fields across the nation’s breadbasket and a global surplus of the grain that has depressed prices, according to government report. The National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast the size of the nation’s 2018 wheat crop at 1.19 billion bushels. If realized, that would be down 6 percent from the previous year. The last time the nation’s farmers harvested such a small wheat crop was in 2002, when U.S. production fell to 1.137 billion bushels,

A Green Approach to Making Ammonia Could Help Feed the World

University of Central Florida | Posted on May 17, 2018

UCF research team with collaborators at Virginia Tech have developed a new “green” approach to making ammonia that may help make feeding the rising world population more sustainable. “This new approach can facilitate ammonia production using renewable energy, such as electricity generated from solar or wind,” said physics Assistant Professor Xiaofeng Feng. “Basically, this new approach can help advance a sustainable development of our human society.”Ammonia, a compound of nitrogen and hydrogen, is essential to all life on the planet and is a vital ingredient in most fertilizers used for food production. Since World War I, the ammonia in fertilizer has been primarily produced using the Haber-Bosch method, which is energy and fossil-fuel intensive. There have been substantial obstacles to improving the process, until now.The research team’s new approach is documented in the Nature Communications Journal. The biggest obstacle to ammonia synthesis is the high energy barrier to activate nitrogen molecules. In order for the chemical process to hit a high reaction rate, nitrogen and hydrogen molecules must be heated to a temperature of 662 to 1,022 oF under a pressure of 2,200−5,100 pounds per square inch with the presence of iron-based catalysts. Translation: The chemical reaction only happens under very high temperature and pressure conditions.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich wants to crack down on phosphorus runoff that feeds Lake Erie algal blooms | Posted on May 17, 2018

Gov. John Kasich said he plans to issue an executive order if state lawmakers won't limit fertilizer use in certain parts of the state that contribute to problematic phosphorus and nitrate runoff in Lake Erie. The Ohio General Assembly in 2015 restricted manure and fertilizer application on snow-covered or wet ground in the western basin of Lake Erie with exceptions such as injecting it into the ground or applying it on a cover crop. Another law required large farm owners to obtain a certification in properly applying fertilizer. "We know it's a phosphorous problem and we know what watersheds are the heaviest contributors of phosphorus, so we're looking at what we can do from an executive perspective," Lynch said.Ohio Farm Bureau spokesman Joe Cornely said there's no argument fertilizer nutrients contribute to algal blooms, but additional regulations are premature until research shows what types of nutrients are leaving farm soil and their effect on the problem. 

Fordyce to Head FSA, Starling Heads to USDA from White House

Ag Web | Posted on May 16, 2018

Former Missouri Director of Agriculture Richard Fordyce has been tapped to lead USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue made the announcement Friday that Fordyce is his designee to be administrator of the agency which oversees more than 2,100 county and state offices. Most recently, Fordyce served as State Executive Director for FSA in Missouri. Meanwhile, Ray Starling will be moving from the White House staff to USDA. Agri-Pulse reports Starling, currently the White House special advisor on agriculture, will cross town to serve as USDA chief of staff starting June 1. Starling will replace Heidi Green who is returning to her home in Georgia. Prior to joining the National Economic Council, Starling was chief of staff for Sen. Tom Tillis (R-NC).

A Major North American Climate Boundary Moves East

On Pasture | Posted on May 16, 2018

Thanks to global-scale wind patterns, to the west of the 100th meridian, rainfall drops sharply, and to the east of the line it picks up sharply. Powell described what he saw in 1890, writing, ““Passing from east to west across this belt a wonderful transformation is observed. On the east a luxuriant growth of grass is seen, and the gaudy flowers of the order Compositae make the prairie landscape beautiful. Passing westward, species after species of luxuriant grass and brilliant flowering plants disappear; the ground gradually becomes naked, with bunch grasses here and there; now and then a thorny cactus is seen, and the yucca plant thrusts out its sharp bayonets.”  After determining that such a line really does exist, researchers from Penn State, Columbia Engineering, and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory took a closer look at it. What they found is that the line has shifted from the 100th meridian to the 98th, about 140 miles to the east. Rainfall hasn’t changed much in the northern plains, but temperatures there are going up, increasing evaporation from the soil. Wind patterns have also changed, causing less rain to fall.Land use hasn’t yet been affected because the changes are still very small and gradual. But Richard Seager of the Earth Observatory theorizes that as drying progresses, farms in the east may have to consolidate, irrigate, or change the crops they raise. He even sees the possibility that cropland will be converted back to pasture and western-style grazing.

Low milk prices are a big headache for Michigan’s family dairy farms

Bridge Magazine | Posted on May 16, 2018

While everything appears to be fine at the farm outside Flint and the grocery aisle, there is deep trouble for Michigan’s 1,600 dairy farms. Some 97 percent of them are family-owned, according to the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. For nearly four years, dairy farmers have been receiving approximately half the price for their milk, and dealing with escalating expenses. Worldwide, there is a surplus of milk, which is good for everyone but the milk producers.

Do Cover Crops Pay? Net Returns to Corn/Soybean Farmers in Iowa

Iowa State | Posted on May 16, 2018

Cover crops can induce revenue and expense changes in a farmer’s production system in several ways. Revenue can be affected by savings in livestock feed costs due to cover crop grazing, changes in cash crop production values following cover crop plantings, and cost-share payments that can partially offset the cost of cover crops. Expense changes due to cover crops can be broken down into planting, termination, and other costs. Planting costs include seed purchases, differential planting method costs, and labor. Termination costs typically include herbicide purchases, spraying, and labor. Some of the other costs that might change when using cover crops include costs to repair soil erosion, fertilizer and insecticide costs, cash crop seed costs, and changes in cash rent due to cover crop use.

Current Situation for Iowa’s Major Ag Commodities

Iowa State | Posted on May 16, 2018

A double whammy of rising feed prices and falling hog prices point to tighter hog margins than were expected earlier this year. Projected 2018 profits in ISU’s farrow-to-finish model dipped from the $11 per head forecast in December to losses of $4 per head in April. Carcass weight prices in 2018 are now expected to average near $63 per cwt compared to about $66.50 last year. USDA’s annual Cattle inventory report confirmed that beef herd expansion continued in 2017, albeit at a slower pace than in 2016. Beef herd expansions often last for four to six years. The current expansion began in 2014 and could continue for another year or so. If it does, beef production in this cycle likely would not peak until early in the next decade. The biggest shakeup for the crop markets from the Prospective Plantings report came from soybeans. Throughout March, the soybean market had been preparing for an announcement of a record number of acres planted to soybeans, exceeding corn for the first time since 1983. Well, the second part of that statement happened, but not the first. Farmers indicated they would plant one million fewer acres to soybeans (but the total still exceeds corn). However, like with corn, projected production is still quite large. The 4.27 billion bushels would be the third-largest soybean crop, following the record crop from last year and the bin-buster from 2016