Sunday, 14 July 2013

Back to School

My first day in Indana was spent at Purdue University, where I met Dr Bruce Erickson, Associate Driector, Centre for Commercial Agriculture. As I was going back to school I thought I would put my Nuffield Tie on. Thankfully it was a cooler day.
Purdue University
Cropping in Indiana is dominated by Corn and Soya Beans, and as is often the case farm size is increasing and labour forces are declining. These reasons are increasing the uptake of precision farming methods, now the majority of farms would be using guidance in some way and the benefits are easy to see and quantify. Whereas variable rate applications are less common, Bruce had done a study into precision farming uptake, and his findings substantiated these statements. Precision farming is seen by some of the larger farmers as an replacement of local knowledge, personally I think it is a tool to better utilise that local knowledge and not replace it.

We met up with Jess Lowenberg Deboer, Associate Dean and Director of International Programs In Agiculture (IPIA) for lunch. Jess had done a lot of studies into the economic benefits of precision farming, Historically Phosphate (P) and Potash (k) were not expensive, so variable applications were not used, but as prices have increased so has the uptake of variable rate. Variable rate application of lime is becoming increasingly popular as pH can be very variable within fields. The use of variable rate Nitrogen application is rare, primarily due to logistical constraints within timing and suitability of machinery, plus a reticence to change.

After lunch we met up with Larry Biehl,  Systems Manager, Purdue Terrestrial Observatory. Larry explained to me how much imagery data and soil data is available to US farmers for free on the internet, that has been collected over years by NASA and the federal government. As far as I am aware this kind of resource is not available to UK farmers, although some of the NASA data covers the UK. The USDA uses this imagery to monitor how crops are developing and mapping areas of drought or high moisture.

Next on the agenda was a tour of the new Nanotechnology department, which had cost $60M to build and was 50% funded by a private individual. Nanotechnology is studying materials on a very small scale 1 to 100nm (1 nm is 1 billionth of a M), this allows molecules to be manipulated and in fact substances behave in a different way on the nanoscale compared to the microscopic scale. One of the most incredible things is the clean room where the experiments take place, the amount of dust contamination is 10,000 times less than a normal operating theatre and all the air in the room is recycled several times a minute, for some reason we weren't allow inside!

Nanotechnology Clean Room

My final meeting was with Chris Johannsen and Marion "Baumy", Baugardner, which took place in the retirement home where Baumy lived. Both Chris and Baumy are retired directors of LARS, Laboratory of Applied Remote Sensing. Their combined knowledge of remote sensing and people involved with it was phenomenal. We discussed how remote sensing had been used to measure  a multitude of variables from crop residue levels, to hail damage and waterlogged areas to soil type.

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