New technologies rapidly emerging to help farmers with environmental performance


Technology has always been important to farming. Imagine the day when a shaggy farmer tied a crooked stick behind his pet cow and tilled the soil.

For most of the past ten thousand years or so, most of that technology has been about improving production. We are all the beneficiaries as we have by far the safest, healthiest and least costly food system humans have ever enjoyed.

But given the focus on the environmental impact of farming, particularly on water, there is a lot of emphasis on ways to enable farmers to manage nutrients. Precision farming is one big thing that applies to how and how much fertilizer and water are applied. Even drones are being used to get better information about when and where to irrigate and fertilize.

This week’s editorial in Capital Press, following a story by Don Jenkins earlier, gives attention to new technology coming from Sedro Woolley in Skagit County. Janicki Industries is well known as an innovative leader in engineering in many areas, but Peter Janicki has turned some valuable attention to the issue of manure management. The digester designed to turn human waste into clean water at the village or small city scale, may very well work in converting manure from large dairies into valuable and harmless products. We already have bio-gas digesters that convert manure into power and pathogen-free solids and waste water. This waste water can be applied to fields as fertilizer as it contains the needed crop nutrients, but it is virtually bacteria-free meaning it lessens the risk of surface water contamination.

A new organization called Newtrient has been formed to help the nation’s 42,000 dairy farmers get better information and access to the rapidly expanding suite of technologies and services to help them better manage nutrients (manure is a highly valued organic fertilizer somewhat euphemistically referred to as nutrients). Their technology catalog features information from 164 different vendors, all related in some way to managing nutrients.

Farm critics push “solutions” that will add costs beyond which farmers can bear. That is no solution other than to send our food production to countries who protect their growers from this action. What is a much better solution for those farm critics is to get involved in helping farmers find the best way to feed them and the 7.5 other billion people who inhabit our planet. Farmers are serious about these improvements. So should the farm critics be.