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Innovation Push

January 8, 2014
By: Boyce Thompson, Editorial Director google + 
dave nelson
A precision ag expert, Dave Nelson shares the need for innovation on the farm at the Farm Journal Forum.  

Advancements needed on and off the farm

Agriculture’s challenge is to double production within the next 37 years to feed a world population expected to grow from 7.1 billion to 9.67 billion.

Speakers at the 2013 Farm Journal Forum, which was held in Washington, D.C., agree that on-farm innovation, biotechnology, government policy and computer software are key to meeting this challenge.

Biotech advances made in the past 20 years will "fuel decades of seed advancement," says Robert T. Fraley, Monsanto Company executive vice president and chief technology officer. Biotech seeds were being used by more than 17 million farmers in 28 countries on more than 400 million acres, as of 2012.

FJ Forum no year

"That’s about 20% of the world’s farmland," he notes.

In the future, some of the biggest advances will come from the nexus between seed and communication technology, he says, noting that DeKalb will launch a FieldScripts program in 2014 to help farmers vary planting within 10-by-20-meter grids.

Kip Tom, managing partner of Tom Farms in Leesburg, Ind., makes full use of precision agriculture technology. "We’re grabbing soil samples to figure out how much fertilizer to apply on every hectare of land," he shares. "We can vary the population of corn per row based on soil

conditions. Soon we’ll be able to vary by type of seed."

He makes extensive use of computerized algorithms to vary how much water is applied to various fields, based on how much water the soil can hold, soil type and organic content. While Tom is pleased with better seeds and precision equipment, he thinks the missing piece is industrywide, back-office enterprise resource planning.

It’s reached a point where farmers have so much data at their disposal that some might need to invest in someone to help manage and analyze it.

Productivity gains used to be a question of buying a bigger planter, shares Dave Nelson of Nelson Family Farms in Fort Dodge, Iowa.

"Now it’s about buying a more powerful computer to run my sprayer and planter, to more precisely control my operation," he says.

Nelson believes another key to future productivity is his ability to protect the soil and its nutrients on his farm and the environment around it.

Precision Push. Nelson applies nutrients directly in the soil, within 30" grids. He only applies herbicides where it’s necessary, rather than broadcasting them across the entire farm. He strip-tills only where it’s needed and plants a cover crop. "We are keeping our soil alive and healthy all year long," he explains.

Productivity gains will need to come from everywhere, adds Robert Thompson, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Many speakers shared insight and perspective about the need for continued innovation.

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