Posts about farming

Small Farm Robots

The IdaBot was created by researchers at Northwest Nazarene University (Idaho, USA).

Using robots in farming is limited today but the future could see a huge growth in that use. Benefits of introducing more robots to farming include reducing the use of pesticides and chemicals to control weeds.

Reducing labor costs is also a potential benefit but at current market prices (due to high costs of robotics and available cheap labor) that is more something for the future than today. However that can change fairly quickly – as for example the collapse in solar panel costs have made solar energy economically very attractive. In areas with high labor costs (Japan etc.) or areas where there are active efforts to reduce the supply of labor (in the USA where a significant portion of labor does not have proper visa to work in the USA and the current administration is seeking to reduce that labor availability) robots become more attractive economically.

Robot farmers are coming to a field near you

In Japan, using robots to harvest strawberries is roughly cost-equivalent to human labor if the ‘bots are shared between multiple farms, Lux Research said.

“With strawberry-picking being slow and labor-intensive, and labor scarce and expensive — the average agricultural worker in Japan is over 70 years old – the robot is quickly likely to become the cheaper option,” it said.

Lux Research also forecast European lettuce-growing — a major industry on the continent — would become automated by 2028.

“Automated lettuce weeding is already competitive with human labor in Europe, thanks to regulatory limitations on agrochemicals. Lettuce thinning is still accomplished manually at lower cost, but robots are likely to reach breakeven with human labor in 2028,”

The global market for agricultural robots will explode to $73.9 billion by 2024, up from $3.0 billion 2015

Related: For Many Crops Ants Can Provide Pest Protection Superior or Equal to Chemicals at a Much Lower CostSustainable Ocean FarmingCool Robot Locomotion: Transforms from Wheeled to Walking For Stairs and Rough Terrain (2012)Lean Science: Using Cheap Robots to Aid ResearchMoth Controlled Robot (2009)

Sustainable Ocean Farming

Farming the Sea: why eating kelp is good for you and good for the environment

There are serious problems with our ability to grow healthy food for the number of people we have today (and will have in the future). Innovations have allowed us to feed ourselves. But the damage done to topsoil and other damage including pollution of our rivers is huge. Overfishing and factory farms are keeping us going today but are doing immense damage and are not sustainable.

Seed companies abusing the corrupt government patent systems creates even more damage. We need better solutions. We have many people doing great things but we need to do much more. Ocean farming is one of many areas we should expand. And we should greatly reduce the use of factory farms, antibiotics for livestock, overfishing and the overuse of pesticides.

How an Army of Ocean Farmers are Starting an Economic Revolution

So we all went on a search for sustainability. I ended up in Northern Canada on an aquaculture farm. At that point aquaculture was supposed to be the great solution to overfishing, but when I got there I found more of the same, only using new technologies to pollute local waterways with pesticides and pumping fish full of antibiotics.

I never thought climate change had anything to do with my life. But it does. From my vantage point, climate change is not an environmental issue at all — it’s an economic issue.

As ocean farmers, we reject aquaculture’s obsession with monoculture, an obsession similar to that of modern land farming. Our goal is diversity. It’s a sea-basket approach:We grow two types of seaweeds, four kinds of shellfish, and we harvest salt. But with over 10,000 edible plants in the ocean, we’ve barely scratched the surface.

Instead of repeating history we’re building infrastructure from seed-to-harvest-to-market. We’re starting nonprofit hatcheries so that our farmers can access low-cost seed. We’re creating ocean seed banks so that the Monsantos of the world can’t privatize the source of our food and livelihoods.

Related: SelFISHingThe State of the Oceans (2011)Rethinking the Food Production System (2008)

Beehive Fence Protects Farms from Elephants

photo of farmer in front of beehive fence in Botswana

Another cool use of appropriate technology. One of the problems with Elephants in Africa is when they go into farm fields and eat crops and destroy crops. The elephants and bees project is helping farmers deal with that problem.

By doing so they eliminate the need of farmers to protect their crops by killing elephant. The project uses bees natural behavior and elephants natural desire to avoid bees to create a fence that works to keep elephants out.

The beehives are hung on wires stretched between fenceposts around the farm. If an elephant bumps into the wires to try and enter the farm the bees will swarm and the elephants will run away (and the elephants will send an warning to other elephants to stay away). The fences are being used in Africa and India.

And this fence also produces honey. You can donate to the project to help elephants, bees and people.

Related: Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian ElephantElephant Underpass in KenyaUsing Drones to Deliver Medical Supplies in Roadless AreasFighting Elephant Poaching With Science (2007)Europe Bans Certain Pesticides, USA Just Keeps Looking, Bees Keep Dying (2013)

In Many Crops Ants Can Provide Pest Protection Superior or Equal to Chemicals at a Much Lower Cost

Ants are as Effective as pesticides

The review [of over 70 studies] was conducted by Aarhus University’s Dr Joachim Offenberg, an ecologist who has studied ants for almost 20 years. It includes studies of more than 50 pest species on nine crops across eight countries in Africa, South-East Asia and Australia.

Most of the studies in Offenberg’s review are on weaver ants (Oecophylla), a tropical species which lives in trees and weaves ball-shaped nests from leaves. Because weaver ants live in their host trees’ canopy, near the flowers and fruit that need protection from pests, they are good pest controllers in tropical orchards.

All farmers need to do is collect ant nests from the wild, hang them in plastic bags among their tree crops and feed them a sugar solution while they build their new nests. Once a colony is established, farmers then connect the trees that are part of the colony with aerial ‘ant walkways’ made from string or lianas.

After that, the ants need little, except for some water in the dry season (which can be provided by hanging old plastic bottles among the trees), pruning trees that belong to different colonies so that the ants do not fight, and avoiding insecticide sprays.

The review shows that crops such as cashew and mango can be exceptionally well protected from pests by weaver ants.

One three-year study in Australia recorded cashew yields 49% higher in plots patrolled by ants compared with those protected by chemicals. Nut quality was higher too, so net income was 71% higher with ants than with chemicals.

Similar studies in Australian mango crops found that ants could produce the same yield as chemical control, but because the ants were cheaper, and fruit quality better, net income from mangoes produced with ant protection was 73% higher.

Those crops are special cases in which the ants are vastly superior. But in many other cases ants are as effective and much cheaper than chemical options. Different species of ants are suited to protecting different types of drops. Weaver ants require a canopy, other ants can protect crops without a canopy.

I hope more farmers adopt ants to help protect their crop yields.

Related: Pigs Instead of PesticidesWhy Don’t All Ant Species Replace Queens in the Colony, Since Some DoHow To Make Your Own Pesticide with Ingredients from Your KitchenAnother Bee Study Finds CCD is Likely Due to Combination of Factors Including Pesticides (2013)

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