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March 2013 Archive for Growing Technology

RSS By: Ben Potter,

Technology editor Ben Potter brings you the latest in technology news, and how you can apply it to farming.


Bracketology 101: Overcoming Bias

Mar 22, 2013

I’ve filled out a NCAA bracket every year since 1995. I won my pool that year (UCLA over Arkansas!), a feat I haven’t achieved since. I realize my own biases are a big cause of my lack of success. Each year, I pay what I refer to as the "Kansas Tax" – a diehard University of Missouri fan, I usually scratch KU from the tournament in the early rounds, a move that nearly always costs me big points but keeps my conscience intact.

It’s important that we all recognize our own biases and work to overcome them. There are dozens of bias types. Here are seven common kinds that trip up even the best of us.

1. Post-purchase rationalization. You paid good money for it, so it must be the best. Anyone who put down $250,000 for a new tractor has probably experienced this.

2. The Peltzman effect. Also known as "risk compensation" – you have a tendency to take greater risks when there’s a high perception of safety. When commodity prices are high, remind yourself of this bias.

3. Planning fallacy. On average, tasks take longer to complete than we anticipate when planning for them.

4. Worse-than-average effect. You tend to believe that you’re worse than others when completing a difficult task. Don’t underestimate yourself!

5. Peak-end rule. You remember the peak and end of any event the best. For example, if someone asked me to recall the 2012 drought, I would immediately think about the brutal stretch of 100-degree days in early July.

6. Status quo bias. We prefer things to stay the same. "Staying the same" isn’t always the best strategy in farming, though, with unique challenges each year and with a rapidly changing technology toolbox.

7. Hindsight bias. You knew it all along. (Did you really?)

Tear down your biases, one by one, and you’ll almost certainly become a better farmer. Now, about those Jayhawks? They’re not going to make the Sweet 16 (at least, not in my bracket).

Robots Rev Up R&D

Mar 19, 2013

 It was a frigid February day in Johnston, Iowa, with temperatures in the teens and a gusting wind that cut right through the toughest winter coats. Nearby, in the Pioneer FAST (Functional Analysis System for Traits) corn greenhouse, the ambiance was much nicer – nice enough to grow row after row of green, tasseling corn, in fact.

A greenhouse built to sustain a corn crop in midwinter isn’t all that unusual – many companies have similar facilities. But how many of these greenhouses are run by robots? That’s right, this greenhouse is (with a few exceptions) autonomous.
"We can go in if we need to, but the preference is that we don’t," says senior research associate Tim Moriarty.

By using robotics, digital image analysis and more, Moriarty says Pioneer can more rapidly select desired genetic properties and bring them to market more quickly.

The set-up is as follows: plants in individual containers are grouped onto palettes and are positioned on narrowly spaced tables in the greenhouse. A robotic crane system has access to each of these tables. With the touch of a button, researchers can move the palettes around or even "fetch" one so they can collect tissue samples.

"This helps us collect the same type of data we traditionally would, but because so much is automated, we can do a much greater volume," Moriarty says. "You go to a workstation, the plants come to you, you take the samples, and you’re done."

The ultimate goal is more rapid research, Moriarty says.

"We’re trying to put as many state-of-the-art technologies in a single place," he says. "This facility is one-of-a-kind."

2008 PHI RES 0009

A glimpse into the DuPont Pioneer robotically run greenhouse in Johnston, Iowa.


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