Presentation on Precision Viticulture

UC Davis runs an excellent extension programme from its department of Viticulture and Oenology. The following seminar by soil scientist Dr Jean-Jacques Lambert provides an excellent precis on Precision Viticulture research which has already been commercialised, and technologies that are still in the research phase. The way in which map layers in GIS are used to assist vineyard design are particularly interesting.

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The seminar can be viewed here

The accompanying Powerpoint presentation can be viewed here

 

Environmental Benefits of GMO’s; Lower Methane Emissions from Rice Paddies

This recently published paper on GM rice designed to abate methane production from the paddy, with its substantial environmental benefits, is fascinating. With rice production trials proceeding in Georgia and with free access to the EU market developing, this is of interest for Georgian irrigators.

One engineering and management reform that eliminates methane production from rice is to abolish paddies and irrigate rice under centre pivots, using the methodology pioneered by US irrigation engineering firm Valmont. This short video gives a good introduction.

This massively reduces maintenance, water and capital costs, as well as allowing sloped land and soils with a low water-holding capacity to be used for rice. However, a key limitation is low overnight temperatures at a key development period of the rice plant; exposure to temperatures below 15 degrees at that stage results in sterility and poor yield. Paddy-produced rice experiences some buffering of temperature effects due to water’s ability to retain heat overnight in the flooded paddy. Pivot irrigated rice does not have this attribute, and so varieties that are cold-tolerant must be selected, planting time carefully planned, and production areas selected where low overnight temperatures during critical development phases are rare. Hence this technology is seen extensively in the subtropical and tropical zones of the Americas, Africa and Asia.

Alternately, genetic modification may produce excellent results in conventional paddy-grown rice.

A concise review from WUWT explains the discovery

Rice serves as the staple food for more than half of the world’s population, but it’s also the one of the largest manmade sources of atmospheric methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Now, with the addition of a single gene, rice can be cultivated to emit virtually no methane from its paddies during growth. It also packs much more of the plant’s desired properties, such as starch for a richer food source and biomass for energy production, according to a study in Nature.

With their warm, waterlogged soils, rice paddies contribute up to 17 percent of global methane emissions, the equivalent of about 100 million tons each year. While this represents a much smaller percentage of overall greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide, methane is about 20 times more effective at trapping heat. SUSIBA2 rice, as the new strain is dubbed, is the first high-starch, low-methane rice that could offer a significant and sustainable solution.

Researchers created SUSIBA2 rice by introducing a single gene from barley into common rice, resulting in a plant that can better feed its grains, stems and leaves while starving off methane-producing microbes in the soil.

The results, which appear in the July 30 print edition of Nature and online, represent a culmination of more than a decade of work by researchers in three countries, including Christer Jansson, director of plant sciences at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and EMSL, DOE’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory. Jansson and colleagues hypothesized the concept while at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and carried out ongoing studies at the university and with colleagues at China’s Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences and Hunan Agricultural University.

“The need to increase starch content and lower methane emissions from rice production is widely recognized, but the ability to do both simultaneously has eluded researchers,” Jansson said. “As the world’s population grows, so will rice production. And as the Earth warms, so will rice paddies, resulting in even more methane emissions. It’s an issue that must be addressed.”

Channeling carbon

During photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is absorbed and converts to sugars to feed or be stored in various parts of the plant. Researchers have long sought to better understand and control this process to coax out desired characteristics of the plant. Funneling more carbon to the seeds in rice results in a plumper, starchier grain. Similarly, carbon and resulting sugars channeled to stems and leaves increases their mass and creates more plant biomass, a bioenergy feedstock.

The results, which appear in the July 30 print edition of Nature and online, represent a culmination of more than a decade of work by researchers in three countries, including Christer Jansson, director of plant sciences at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and EMSL, DOE’s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory. Jansson and colleagues hypothesized the concept while at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and carried out ongoing studies at the university and with colleagues at China’s Fujian Academy of Agricultural Sciences and Hunan Agricultural University.

“The need to increase starch content and lower methane emissions from rice production is widely recognized, but the ability to do both simultaneously has eluded researchers,” Jansson said. “As the world’s population grows, so will rice production. And as the Earth warms, so will rice paddies, resulting in even more methane emissions. It’s an issue that must be addressed.”

The master plan

Upon discovery of the transcription factor SUSIBA2, for SUgar SIgnaling in BArley 2, further investigation revealed it was a type known as a master regulator. Master regulators control several genes and processes in metabolic or regulatory pathways. As such, SUSIBA2 had the ability to direct the majority of carbon to the grains and leaves, and essentially cut off the supply to the roots and soil where certain microbes consume and convert it to methane.

Researchers introduced SUSIBA2 into a common variety of rice and tested its performance against a non-modified version of the same strain. Over three years of field studies in China, researchers consistently demonstrated that SUSIBA2 delivered increased crop yields and a near elimination of methane emissions.

Precision Agriculture and the Caucasus

The article below from Foreign Affairs is a very neat layman’s summary of the Precision Agriculture methodology which YFN Georgia uses. It covers the basics of the evolution of GPS use, property and soil mapping, Variable Rate methodology for use of fertilisers and pesticides, tractor and harvester guidance systems, auto-pilot and remote control for tractors, remote sensing with drones and satellite imagery. From Foreign Affairs:

” Today, however, the trend toward ever more uniform practices is starting to reverse, thanks to what is known as “precision agriculture.” Taking advantage of information technology, farmers can now collect precise data about their fields and use that knowledge to customize how they cultivate each square foot.

One effect is on yields: precision agriculture allows farmers to extract as much value as possible from every seed. That should help feed a global population that the UN projects will reach 9.6 billion by 2050. Precision agriculture also holds the promise of minimizing the environmental impact of farming, since it reduces waste and uses less energy. And its effects extend well beyond the production of annual crops such as wheat and corn, with the potential to revolutionize the way humans monitor and manage vineyards, orchards, livestock, and forests. Someday, it could even allow farmers to depend on robots to evaluate, fertilize, and water each individual plant—thus eliminating the drudgery that has characterized agriculture since its invention.”

Some of the basic technologies involved are visualised below. All of them are available to farmers in the Caucasus through our company.

Our tractor and harvester guidance systems start with very simple GPS-powered Farmnavigator systems from Australian firm FarmAgScan, which provide Parallel Guidance, Contour Guidance, Round & Round Guidance, Lightbar navigation, a Virtual Sprayboom, Field perimeter & area measurement, an external GPS, and export to Google Maps™ or Google Earth™. A good basic, robust unit for those starting out in Precision Agriculture.

A more comprehensive Variable Rate controller and Guidance System is the FarmScanAg AgGuide V4,.

This provides:

Comprehensive mapping, for recording, storage, analysis, printing and record keeping for a virtually unlimited  number of farms, fields, jobs, field perimeters, runlines, marked points, spray and weather data, coverage and elevation maps. On-screen and audible notification of important upcoming obstacles (e.g trees, rocks, poles, perimeters) reduces the risk of in-field collisions.

Guidance, including on-screen visual guidance, as well as steering-wheel- motor and full CANBUS and cm accuracy hydraulic auto-steer guidance are expertly implemented, allowing for broadacre, inter-row-sowing and controlled traffic row-crop operations. Racetrack, contour, parallel, and pivot guidance are all included.

Automatic Boom Section Spray and Rate Control (SprayGuide) reducing chemical usage and overlap or underlap. Rate control provides fingertip regulation of application rates.

Record keeping All mapping data is retained indefinitely allowing for full record keeping of all in-field, sowing, spreading, fertilizing, spraying and harvesting operations, as well as printing, area and product cost analysis. This interacts seamlessly with our Fairport PAM Farm Management Software, documenting all operations, seeding, harvesting and chemical applications, via the PAM PDP module.

Implement guidance (RigGuide), controlling tractor-drawn implements track, depth and other activities.

Variable Rate Control (VRC) allowing rate control of up to 4 products including on-screen fingertip control. Different fertiliser blends or pesticide blends can be mixed on-tractor in real time and documented meticulously, and differential seeding rates applied.

‘Laser’-levelling (LevelGuide) controls a grader blade/bucket to replicate and improve upon standard laser levelling tasks – at a fraction of the standard cost and hassle. Single planes can be easily marked with three points, or a combination of points and defined slopes. With the use of companion software or design services, full-multi-plane cut-fill maps can be used with powerful coloured on-screen mapping including contour profiling. Contour banks are also easy to make.

Multi-camera display allows Images from up to 4 cameras can be simultaneously displayed on-screen, with any enlarged to full screen with a simple touch of the finger.

We now, in partnership with a UK firm, are capable of Electromagnetic Induction Scanning (EMI Scanning) of soils to develop comprehensive soil maps accurate to within 5 cm, allowing management zones based on soil types and drainage characteristics to be developed, improving yields and reducing operating costs. Precision irrigation design, where zones are irrigated according to soil type and plant requirement, dramatically improves product quality and reduces water pumping costs.

Soil Map

Once the enterprise is operational, aerial scanning with light aircraft or drones with MultiSpectral Digital cameras yields tremendous data on plant vigour for every square metre of the property and can be used to estimate eventual yield and schedule harvest time. Remote sensing now is becoming so advanced that our British partners are now providing pre-harvest estimates not only of tonnage of apples per hectare but the number of apples per tree!

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While there are environmental benefits to the use of Precision Agriculture methodologies, reducing overuse of fertiliser and pesticides and intelligently planning property development to reduce soil erosion, the key benefit is economic. Typical benefits seen are:

* Higher yields as plants’ nutritional needs are more accurately met.

* Reduced fertiliser, pesticide and seed cost per tonne of commodity harvested.

*Reduced fuel consumption as tractors and harvesters operate as efficiently as possible under guidance.

*Better use of irrigation water and reduced water pumping costs as irrigation water is applied only as and where needed on management zones.

*Higher prices for cereal commodities; correct management of nitrogen and soil moisture results in more wheat growers capturing bread-baking wheat contracts, replacing imports.

*Higher prices for horticultural products like grapes, apples and peaches; careful control over nutrition, irrigation and harvesting time results in higher quality commodity produced at lower cost. Vertically integrated wineries using remote sensing and differential harvesting report increased margins of USD$20,000 per hectare.

The cost of technology is dropping fast; this robust mini-drone, possibly suitable for crop scouting and likely to be able to accept MSDP cameras in the future, may sell for less than $500.

For more details, contact Simon on simon@yfn.com.ge

Irrigation Water Discussion: Inclusive Growth Dialogue at ISET Policy Institute

ISET Policy Institute on October 23 invited Simon to address representatives of government, NGO’s, industry and academia about issues related to irrigation water access in Georgia.

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The video of the dialogue is presented below. Simon’s commentary can be seen at 1.20 and 20.30

Tissue Testing: Precision Agriculture programme on 2500 Ha of cereal cropping land

This month we will be testing over 2500 Ha of estate as part of our Precision Agriculture programme; tissue testing of wheat and barley crops to guide the farmers on how much additional fertiliser to add in March to crops, and soil testing to plan for late spring plantings of sunflower, mungbean, mustard and canola. Solid NPK and micronutrient will be laid down at seeding.

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By engaging in targetted soil and tissue testing, matched with GPS-enabled datalogging and division of farms up into management plots, we can exactly match nutritional requirements of plants with fertiliser application suitable for the growth phase of the plant and the soil in that part of the property. This results in superior yields and quality parameters, while keeping fertiliser costs as much as 30% below that of conventional  blanket regimes.

We work closely with a US laboratory partner to ensure international standards of accuracy.

We will post pictures and video over the next few weeks to demonstrate how this programme operates.

 

Precision Agriculture and Geographic Information System Services in Georgia

We are happy to advise that we are presently providing Precision Agriculture services to Westland LLC, operating a 1700 dryland cereal growing property in the Sighnaghi district of Kakheti.

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Preparing for October planting of wheat and barley, we have divided the property up into a grid on a GIS map and sampled soil from the centre of each grid square.

Geographic Information System, dividing of property into grid to pre-plot soil sample sites according to GPS co-ordinanates

 

Our samples are promptly and economically processed by our partners in America and fertiliser recommendations provided to meet the plant’s requirements based on a target yield.

By developing recommendations for each field, or even for portions of a field where soil type is variable, we can obtain very high yields and good product quality while avoiding over-fertilisation of more productive plots. It is common for operators to save up to 25% of fertiliser expenditure compared to generic blanket applications. Given that compound fertiliser prices in Georgia are very high, the service has a very high return on investment.

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Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods, Stanford study finds – Office of Communications & Public Affairs – Stanford University School of Medicine

There is a great deal of misunderstanding of organic food production in Georgia. The urban myth that most Georgian food is “organic by default” is repeated ad nauseum, but it does not take into account contamination of many sites in the region with heavy metals and pollutant chemicals, for which nobody in the country tests before planting crops.

News media, the Church and many foreign funded NGO’s tend to promote organic production as a sustainable competitive advantage for Georgia’s food producers. They neglect to consider that organic food is generally twice the price of conventionally produced foods (due to much lower yields) and in a poor country this restricts domestic distribution to a tiny affluent niche market. Exports of food products from Georgia are still in their infancy and are generally restricted to hazelnuts and mandarins. By all means, if Georgian producers can secure superior net income by switching to organic production, they should do so, but wholesaling and distribution, as well as certification, is still very primitive here.

Arguments that organic crop production is better for the environment are also subject to challenge; instead of using herbicides and zero-till crop planters, organic farmers must use repeated cultivation to control weeds by physically disturbing soil, with annual diesel consumption up to three times that of zero-till, and soil compaction inevitably resulting over time due to over-tilling. The layer of crop residue mulch on top of a conventional zero till field is no less rich an environment for soil microflora and fauna than a harrowed organic field, in some cases more so.

The main argument put to affluent consumers over the years is that organic produce is better for human health than conventionally produced foods. Stanford University analysed many past papers on this subject in 2012, and came to the conclusion that there is no significant difference in human health between consumers of organic food, compared to consumers of conventionally produced food.

Granted, meta-analysis of other people’s past papers is not the most rigourous epidemiological technique available; a prospective cohort study would be more enlightening. It would be fair to say that there is no clear association between human health and consumption of organic foods, and that more studies are warranted if the price premium is to be justified.

A team led by Bravata, a senior affiliate with Stanford’s Center for Health Policy, and Crystal Smith-Spangler, MD, MS, an instructor in the school’s Division of General Medical Disciplines and a physician-investigator at VA Palo Alto Health Care System, did the most comprehensive meta-analysis to date of existing studies comparing organic and conventional foods. They did not find strong evidence that organic foods are more nutritious or carry fewer health risks than conventional alternatives, though consumption of organic foods can reduce the risk of pesticide exposure.

Read the full press release here via Little evidence of health benefits from organic foods, Stanford study finds – Office of Communications & Public Affairs – Stanford University School of Medicine.