Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Cyber Porch--high octane research, gene editing, freaky fast

**Three notable ag stories worth kickin' around on the cyber porch...

High Octane Research

A new USDA study says corn ethanol has substantially less GHG emissions than in 2005.
Some have been unhappy about the wall-to-wall corn production that supplies the core content for the ethanol boom, but many believe biofuels are economically and environmentally sound. The oil industry and some environmental groups will criticize this report, but it is high octane information for ethanol proponents.

What's In Your Genes?

This article points out some of the different methods being developed to alter plants (and animals?)--soybeans with more healthy fatty acids, potatoes that stay fresh longer, and cows without horns? The trend seems to be more toward gene editing rather than genetic modifying.The brave new world of ag is using a "snip snip here and a snip snip there" to incorporate some amazing--and at times controversial--changes.

Freaky Fast for for 200,000

Many are not convinced drones will be able to deliver pastrami sandwiches or boxes of thin-crust pizza in big cities like New York, but the food service in Mumbai, India, has a ground-based system that gets 200,000 meals a day to hungry customers--mainly by foot or bike. Maybe it's not that freaky fast, but it's freakin' amazing. 

by dan gogerty (top pic from futurity.org; bottom one from gettyimages)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

An App to Control Our Ag Apps

I recently heard about an app that helps parents organize and control their kids’ smartphones. They have the ability to monitor a 16-year-old's movements and even shut off all power on the phone. Seems to me it blends a helping of guardian angel with a strong dose of Big Brother. 

Maybe farmers already have a “master app” also. They’ll need it. This tech site describes just seventeen of the hundreds of apps agriculture folks can now access. Of course, downloading them might involve a payment, and it no doubt means surrendering information. But precision ag is here to stay as long as satellites fly and the grid stays gritty.

I was impressed when I read the description of the Pocket Rain Gauge app—you get hourly moisture updates about all your fields. I thought back to my childhood farm days and the precipitation app we had in the 60s—it was called “Dad.” His main rain gauge was nailed to the side of the pump house, and he kept a pencil stub with it so he could write rainfall amounts on the white boards. The side of the tiny building eventually looked like a type of Midwest hieroglyphic art. 

Dad also attached gauges to fence posts, and he religiously listened to farm reports on local AM radio. But the science was inexact. If the rain was spotty, we might find out where the heaviest fell when a tractor got stuck in the south 40 cornfield or if the cut hay at Uncle Pat’s place was too tough to bale. 

Farmer chitchat at the local feed store added to the data cloud. “Judging from the sound on the tin roof of my machine shed, we musta had near half an inch.” Others suspected that the weather gods sometimes interfered. “Heard they got two inches up by Hubbard. They’ve been gettin’ it just right all summer while my corn—just six miles south—looks dry enough to roll it up and smoke it.”

A weed app featured in the tech article also caught my attention. It apparently can identify weeds and provide needed information. Once again, our Dad App did that for us back in analog days. “Boys, the soybeans are loaded with cockleburs, buttonweeds, and thistles. If you start early, the heat won’t be too bad. Remember--pull 'em out by the roots.”

A couple of other new ag apps have more of an eye-in-the-sky feel to them. They can coordinate movement on the farm and beyond by showing where each tractor and worker might be. Good to know where the grain wagon is on its way to the town elevator, and helpful to locate the hay rack if someone has a flat tire hauling in a load. 

But this feature takes me back to the Orwellian parental control app I mentioned before. Back in our teen days, it would have been acceptable for our Dad App to know where we were on the tractor, but after farming hours we were just fine being off the grid. No need for a digital nanny when we were scoopin’ the loop, cruisin’ the back roads, or catchin’ the late show at the drive-in theater.

The Dad App had all the answers back then. Who knows--as this article says, maybe a type of agrarian Amazon Echo will pull it all together for farmers nowadays. "Alexa, what's the future of farming?" "I am." 

by dan gogerty (background of top pic from DoItYourself.com; Echo pic from agprofessional.com)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Science Breakthroughs, an Eccentric Ag Man, and Bovine Equestrians

When a new year arrives, we can hear it slouching toward us like a menacing balrog with challenges and disasters clinging to its shadowy form. Or we can anticipate its opportunities and start working on making the world (and Middle Earth) better. Science is one way to defeat the balrogs. We all know that tech and innovation can have mixed results, but sound science has led to advances in medicine, agriculture, and many other facets of life. In the first link below, a BBC article says it is a good time to reflect on some positive breakthroughs from last year. In the second article, farmer and ag specialist Blake Hurst considers the fact that the new year will bring us a new Secretary of Agriculture. And he reminds us of a "crazy, talented" secretary of the past. The final link below delves into a bit of "bovine equestrianism."  

**  This year has seen the birth of the first three-person baby, a dangerous Zika epidemic, and a huge injustice overturned by medical science. There were also breakthroughs in a range of deadly diseases. This BBC site includes a short, informative video and a list of several science stories from the past year--and many advances that give people hope.

Hannah Simpson and her jumping cow.
   **  According to Blake Hurst, the most interesting Secretary of Agriculture was Henry Wallace, who was not only a talented agriculture leader, but he was possibly the craziest. He was also Secretary of Commerce, Vice President of the U.S., and a failed candidate for President. Oh yes, he also said he was a reincarnated Iroquois warrior, a dabbler in “creative” religions, and an admirer of the Soviet Union in pre-WWII days.

**  Problem Solving--This New Zealand girl didn’t have a horse so she taught her cow to jump instead. As the video at the bottom of the article shows, they probably aren't ready to enter Olympic dressage competitions, but the young Kiwi certainly seems adept at riding the bovine without a saddle.

by dan gogerty (photo from foxnews.com)