7 Crop Health Metrics That Matter to Farmers

Crop health is of paramount importance to farmers; thus, careful and consistent monitoring of crop health is an absolute must. A recent study on coffee yield losses from 2013 to 2015 revealed that pests and diseases led to high primary (26%) and secondary (38%) yield losses in the researcher’s sampled area. This highlights the significance of closely paying attention to such detrimental factors in your crop’s environment. Doing so will ensure maximum yield and profit for farmers come harvest time.

To look at crop health monitoring as governed by just one or two aspects, however, is a serious mistake. Rather, a holistic approach must be adopted; in other words, more factors need to be monitored than just pestilence and disease.

Here are seven of the most important crop health metrics for farmers to monitor, based on the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) Program’s guidelines.

1) Crop appearance

Perhaps the most obvious indicator of crop health is their general appearance. While not an all-in-one, foolproof method of gauging the current condition of a particular set of crops, a farmer possessing the right tools and knowledge can tell quite a lot from simply looking at the state of his or her plants.

Lightness or discoloration in foliage more often than not points to chlorosis, a state in which plants produce insufficient chlorophyll. Modern methods of crop health monitoring, including new technologies that utilize both near-infrared and visible light, allow farmers to actively and accurately monitor chlorophyll content.

2) Crop growth

Among the indicators of poor crop growth are short branches, sparse stand, and the rarity or absence of new shoots. This, of course, will inevitably affect your total yield in a negative way. Under ideal circumstances, there should be robust growth and dense, uniform stand in your crops.

3) Tolerance or resistance to stress

Simply put, crop stress is a decrease in crop production brought about by external factors. An example would be exposure to excess light and high temperatures, which may disrupt photosynthesis (known as photoinhibition). As a result, crops will have insufficient energy to bear fruit or grow, and may even sustain lasting damage to their membranes, chloroplasts, and cells. Healthy crops are stress-tolerant, and can easily bounce back after being exposed to stressors in their environment.

4) Occurrences of pests and/or diseases

An indicator that your crops are extremely susceptible to pests and diseases would be if over 50% of the population ends up getting damaged by said factors. Under the right circumstances, less than 20% of your crops would be negatively affected by any invasion of pests or spread of disease, allowing them to easily recuperate and increase in number once more.

Building crop resistance against harmful insects and diseases can be done in a number of ways, including improving crop diversity, crop rotation, using organic pesticides such as Himalayan salt spray and eucalyptus oil, and even genetic research and enhancement.

5) Weed competition and pressure

Apart from insects and plant diseases, weeds can also spell doom for your crops, if left unchecked. In the event that your farm becomes overpopulated with weeds that will steal the nutrients from your crops, you will certainly notice that your crops are steadily dwindling. Healthy crops, on the other hand, would eventually overwhelm the weed population and reclaim dominance over your field.

6) Genetic diversity

To have only one dominant variety of crop in your farm is tantamount to putting your eggs in a single basket. For instance, you should consider the importance of having multiple disease-resistant crop varieties on your farm. Don’t fall prey to the temptation of replacing them entirely with a single, higher-yielding type.

It is essential to buil crop resistance against harmful insects and diseases

7) Plant diversity and population

In an ideal setting, there should be more than two species of plants in your field. Counting the actual number of trees or plants across your farm, as well as the naturally occurring vegetation on all sides of the area, can also give you a better perspective on your farm’s overall crop health.

Importance of crop management system

Some farmers become overly reliant on insecticides and other chemicals to eliminate their pest problems — a grievous error, as this will likely lead to even more serious problems. Even the indiscriminate application of mineral fertilizers may inadvertently boost pest populations by making conditions ideal for them to thrive.

Ultimately, a combination of the right knowledge and the proper technology is a must in measuring and monitoring crop health metrics. Farmers must always be aware of the current health of their crops, and must be prepared to address any problems with solutions that don’t end up causing more.

The Top 7 Benefits of Composting

The impact of human activities on the environment is rapidly changing. One such activity gaining much attention is waste disposal. A lot of waste products go to landfills despite constituting a reasonable fraction of organic matter, such as paper materials, food wastes, and pet droppings.

The new preferred way to dispose of organic waste is composting. Composting refers to the process through which materials biodegrade. It is a means by which organic waste can be safely recycled. Composting can be effectively done with compost systems.

benefits-composting

Take note that this process of waste disposal is still in its early stages, especially when adopted in homes. Still, here are 7 benefits of composting:

1. Improved Soil Quality

Composted materials become humus, a known nutrient-rich constituent of soil. The newly formed humus replenishes soil nutrients and improves water retention in loose soil. Thus, soil quality considerably improves as a result of composting.

Composted materials are also rich in fungi and bacteria. These microbes prevent insect infestation and suppress weed growth. With these nutrient draining agents out of the way, your soil quality dramatically improves, too.

2. Saves Time and Money

It is a waste of time and money when a yard being cultivated does not experience normal growth, nor does it yield the expected harvest. Fortunately, you can save money and time in the long term with composting practices. This is possible because of the compost’s ability to fight insect infestation, weed growth, and to replenish the soil of lost nutrients.

The three nutrients that are sought in chemical fertilizers, Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium (NPK), are made available by humus. This directly saves you the cost of purchasing fertilizers. Without the presence of compost, farmers need to spend a lot of money to buy pesticides and weed killers.

3. Environment Friendliness

Composting is an environmentally friendly option compared to landfills. Landfills are currently the most common destination for organic waste. In landfills, organic waste cannot decay properly, so they generate a specific greenhouse gas called methane.

landfills-methane-gas

Methane is known to cause harmful effects on the environment – similar to that of carbon dioxide but even more dangerous. The more organic waste ends up in landfills, the more methane gas that is produced.

Composting solves this problem in a whiff by reducing the amount of methane produced while organic matter decays. Composting allows carbon to be retained in the soil, which lowers the carbon footprint caused by decaying matter.

The ability of compost to bypass the incineration of yard waste also makes it a preferred option for organic waste in yards.

4. Improved Human Health

There are several ways for composting to indirectly enhance human health. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, as mentioned above, by composting is not only good for the environment but also for people – a reduction of greenhouse gas means a healthier environment to live in.

Organic food production credited to composting also improves human health in significant ways. It reduces the number of chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides that end up in meals, translating to healthier humans.

5. Higher Agricultural Yield

A higher yield of crops is very important to farmers. Through its ability to increase soil quality, composting achieves a higher return in agricultural products. More plant yield accounts for more plants to be sold, which also means more money to be made.

Soil quality also translates to the quality of the food which is produced. Food produced from high-quality, organic soil is free from all toxins from chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

6. Reduced Erosion

Erosion is harmful to the soil because it makes soil matter and nutrients to be washed away. This is compounded by the fact that soils are loose.

Compost averts erosion by remedying the existing structure of the soil. It further prevents erosion by:

  • Aiding water infiltration in the soil structure.
  • Aiding water retention, thereby slowing runoff and loss of soil matter.
  • Allows for quicker vegetation growth.

7. Aids Biodiversity

Microorganisms present in the soil, such as bacteria, fungi, and protozoa, will cause the decay of organic material. Their presence is important because they aid soil aeration. Soil aeration on its own accelerates the composting process, making nutrients available in their usable state as quickly as possible.

Other organisms that are present in composted soil include worms and beneficial insects. All these aids the process of plant growth.

Conclusion:

Composting is a sustainable and environmentally friendly way to dispose of organic waste. It is particularly important even now as the world struggles with creating solutions to waste disposal.

Composting results in better soil quality. It is also a process that saves them time and money of farmers. Humans can benefit from composting through improved health. There is a higher yield of farm produce as a result of composting. Erosion is significantly reduced, and biodiversity is achieved in the soil through composting.

Biogas in Agriculture Sector in India: Key Challenges

Although the conversion of agriculture waste – cattle dung and crop residues –  to biogas and digested slurry is an established and well-proven technology in India, it has been under-used, probably because until recently, firewood was easily available and chemical fertilizer was relatively affordable to most of the farmers in India.

The National Biogas and Manure Management Programme (NBMMP) was put in place to lower the environmental degradation and prevent greenhouse gas emissions, like carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere. However, this objective of the program is less likely to motivate the farmers and their families to install biogas plants.

This program rolled out by Ministry of Non-Conventional Energy Sources (now Ministry of New and Renewable Energy), New Delhi, with heavy subsidies for family-type biogas plants to increase adoption, was successful with lakhs of biogas plants being installed across the country till now.

It was realised that due to poor dissemination of information and unsatisfactory communication about the plant operation & application of the digested biogas slurry, and unable to perceive the return in terms of value resulted in discontinuation of lakhs of biogas plants across the country.

The entire biogas technology marketing efforts failed to highlight major advantage – an increased revenue from agriculture with the use of high quality and a low-cost homegrown digested biogas slurry as fertiliser. Another advantage was to help farmers’ understand that their land quality and output per acre will increase over the years by the use of digested biogas slurry which has been degraded from the rampant use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides.

Challenges to be addressed

The farmer’s communities today are required to made to understand that their revenue from agriculture is decreasing year on year due to increasing deforestation, degradation of land quality, rampant use of chemical fertiliser and pesticides, lack of farm cattle, injudicious use of water for irrigation, and use heavy vehicles for ploughing.

These ill-advised decisions have made the farmers poorer, impacted the health of their families and the rural environment of villages. The years ahead are crucial if this trend is not reversed.

Unending benefits of biogas technology

Most of the rural and semi-urban areas have a poor perception of the Anaerobic Digestion (or biogas or biomethanation) technology. This technology offers benefits to all spheres of society but have a particular emphasis on the needs of the farmers in rural areas.

Farmers with dairy animals generally have free access to animal waste (dung), which provide input feed for the biogas digesters. Normally, these farmers stock-pile the dung obtained from their cattle as a plant fertilizer, but this has lower nitrogen content than the digested biogas slurry created by the biogas digestion process, which is odorless and makes a better fertilizer to substitute chemical fertilizers. They can use the gas for cooking or heating, for running power generators. The biogas technology helps farmers reduce their burden to buy LPG and harmful chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

In short, biogas technology is an integrated solution for sustainable agriculture, improving health and lowering environment degradation.

The promise of biogas technology

Biogas technology can help in the following manner:

  • Enhance bio-security for dairy animals – being fully fermented, bio-slurry is odorless and does not attract flies, repels termites and pests that are attracted to raw dung.
  • Provides high quality and low-cost homegrown fertiliser for sustainable agriculture.
  • Reduce energy poverty and ensure energy security.
  • Digested biogas slurry is an excellent soil conditioner with humic acid.
  • Save time for women for education and livelihood activities.
  • Increase forest cover as less firewood would be needed on a daily basis.
  • Reduce weed growth

Importance of Government Efforts

The agriculture sector is playing a major role in India economy and it comprises a huge vote bank. Our government has launched various initiatives like GOBAR-DHAN (Galvanizing Organic Bio-Agro Resources Dhan), Sustainable Alternative towards Affordable Transportation (SATAT), and New National Biogas and Organic Manure Programme (NNBOMP) in attempt to revive interest in biogas technology for farmers and entrepreneurs.

rice-straw-biogas

Agricultural residues, such as rice straw, are an important carbon source for anaerobic digestion

These initiatives are aimed at developmental efforts that would benefit the farmers, vehicle-users, and entrepreneurs. These initiatives also hold a great promise for efficient solid waste management and tackling problems of indoor air pollution caused by use of firewood, deforestation and methane gas release in the atmosphere due to open piling of cattle dung.

These initiatives aren’t marketing the value which solves a major challenge – degradation of agriculture land for farming in rural India. The initiative and efforts are majorly focused on waste management, environment and towards behavioral change. These changes are of global importance and can be managed effortlessly by generating tangible results for farmers.

India has an aspiring young workforce which is moving to urban settlements in hope for better opportunities, therefore, productivity and revenue from agriculture needs to grow. The biogas technology can restore agriculture productivity and strengthen revenue to make it attractive.

Note: This article was first published by author on LinkedIn.com. The link to this article – https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/bio-gas-misunderstood-agri-technology-zahir-kapasi/

Solid Waste Management in South Asia: Key Lessons

Solid waste management is already a significant concern for municipal governments across South Asia. It constitutes one of their largest costs and the problem is growing year on year as urban populations swell. As with all waste management experiences, we have learned lessons and can see scope for improvement.

swm-south-asia

Collection and Transportation

There are two factors which have a significant impact on the costs and viability of a waste management system as it relates to collection and transportation: first, the distance travelled between collection and disposal point; and second, the extent to which ‘wet’ kitchen waste can be kept separate from dry waste much of which can be recycled. Separating waste in this way reduces the costs of manual sorting later on, and increases the prices for recyclable materials.

In many larger towns distances become too great for door-to-door collectors to dispose waste directly at the dump site. Arrangements are made to dispose of waste at secondary storage points (large skips) provided by the municipality. However, where these are not regularly emptied, the waste is likely to be spread beyond the bins, creating a further environmental hazard.

Ideally, and if suitable land can be found, a number of smaller waste disposal sites located around a town would eliminate this problem. With significant public awareness efforts on our part, and continual daily reminders to home-owners, we were able to raise the rate of household separation to about 60%, but once these reminders became less frequent, the rate dropped rapidly back to around 25%. The problem is compounded in larger cities by the unavailability of separated secondary storage bins, so everything is mixed up again at this point anyway, despite the best efforts of householders.

If rates are to be sustained, it requires continual and on-going promotion in the long term. The cost of this has to be weighed against the financial benefit of cleaner separated waste and reduced sorting costs. Our experience in Sri Lanka shows how important a role the Local Authority can play in continuing to promote good solid waste management practices at the household level.

Home Composting

Our experience with home composting shows that complete coverage, with every household using the system, is very unlikely to be achieved. Where we have promoted it heavily and in co-operation with the Local Authority we have found the sustained use of about 65% of the bins. Even this level of coverage, however, can have an important impact on waste volumes needing to be collected and disposed of. At the same time it can provide important, organic inputs to home gardening, providing a more varied and nutritious diet for poor householders.

Waste to Compost and Waste to Energy

The variety of technologies we have demonstrated have different advantages and disadvantages. For some, maintenance is more complicated and there can be issues of clogging. For the dry-fermentation chambers, there is a need for a regular supply of fresh waste that has not already decomposed. For other systems requiring water, quite large amounts may be needed. All of these technical challenges can be overcome with good operation and maintenance practices, but need to be factored in when choosing the appropriate technology for a given location.

The major challenge for compost production has been to secure regular sales. The market for compost is seasonal, and this creates an irregular cash flow that needs to be factored in to the business model. In Bangladesh, a significant barrier has been the need for the product to be officially licensed. The requirements for product quality are exacting in order to ensure farmers are buying a product they can trust.

However, the need for on-site testing facilities may be too prescriptive, creating a barrier for smaller-scale operations of this sort. Possibly a second tier of license could be created for compost from waste which would allow sales more easily but with lower levels of guarantees for farmers.

Safe Food Production and Consumption

Community people highly welcomed the concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost. In Sri Lanka, women been practicing vertical gardening which meeting the daily consumption needs became source of extra income for the family.

Female organic fertilizer entrepreneurs in Bangladesh are growing seasonal vegetables and fruits with compost and harvesting more quality products. They sell these products with higher price in local and regional markets as this is still a niche market in the country. The safe food producers require financial and regulatory support from the government and relevant agencies on certification and quality control to raise and sustain market demand.

The concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost is picking up in South Asia

The concept of safe food using organic waste generated compost is picking up in South Asia

Conclusion

Solid waste management is an area that has not received the attention it deserves from policy-makers in South Asia nations. There are signs this may change, with its inclusion in the SDGs and in many INDCs which are the basis of the Paris Climate Agreement. If we are to meet the challenge, we will need new approaches to partnerships, and the adoption of different kinds of systems and technologies. This will require greater awareness and capacity building at the Local Authority level. If national climate or SDG targets are to be met, they will need to be localised through municipalities. Greater knowledge sharing at national and regional levels through municipal associations, regional bodies such as SAARC and regional local authority associations such as Citynet, will be an important part of this.

Practical Action’s key messages for regional and national policy makers, based on our experience in the region in the last 5 years, are about the need for:

  • creating new partnerships for waste collection with NGOs and the informal sector,
  • considering more decentralised approaches to processing and treatment, and
  • recognising the exciting potential for viable technologies for generating more value from waste

How Artificial Intelligence is Saving Our Planet

It takes a high level of data analysis to predict the effects of climate change and the implications of our actions to stop and adapt to it. Often, scientists have terabytes of data, but not the computing power to make sense of climate issues like hurricanes. But this level of analysis is possible with artificial intelligence (AI). In fact, AI may be the best weapon we have to combat and adapt to the effects of climate change. That’s because it can analyze large chunks of data from past events and make accurate predictions about future ones.

Today, AI is helping to monitor and predict everything from glacier retreat to commercial waste management. As innovations in “deep learning” march on, AI’s prescience will help inform scientists about climate impacts and policymakers on the most prudent steps for adaptation. Here are some critical ways AI is helping to preserve our planet.

Smarter Home Energy Use

AI is helping save the planet by assisting homeowners through energy-efficient smart homes. The Internet of Things and today’s “smart devices” let homeowners control their energy use and lower their monthly bills. Smart thermostats can adjust temperature settings for specific rooms in a house. Smart water sprinklers can change water usage based on weather forecasts. And smart security systems can cut down on false alarms calls — so fewer gas-guzzling trips by first responders. The automation, connection, and prediction power built into these smart devices allow homeowners to lower their carbon footprint.

But smart energy use is not just about conservation — it’s also about the best time to use energy. Peak energy hours like evenings are higher-demand, higher-cost times. Smart devices can automate energy use for low-demand hours. Plus, off-peak times like mid-day are when alternative energy sources like solar and wind contribute the most. Therefore, smart technology promotes renewable energy.

Soil Conservation

Soil degradation is a problem often overlooked in the media. But it has serious consequences for humanity’s ability to adapt to and survive climate change. It takes a millennium to generate only three centimeters of topsoil, and soil degradation is happening at a much faster rate. Chemicals, deforestation, erosion, and global warming are major contributors to soil degradation. And if the current rate of degradation continues, the planet’s farmable land could disappear within 60 years, according to United Nations officials.

But farmers and scientists are using AI to help conserve the soil by marshaling complex algorithms along with robots and drones to detect erosion and monitor soil health. For example, one company has developed an agricultural app to help farmers identify nutrient deficiencies within their soil. And farmers are using machine learning to predict the best times to plant, irrigate, and harvest crops based on weather changes. Accurate predictions mean less need for pesticides and fertilizers, which degrade the soil.

Exploring and Protecting Oceans

Scientists watch and test the health of oceans because they’re the best indicators of Earth’s health. Microplastics, increased CO2 levels, and ocean acidification are changing the surface of the planet. The key to protecting oceans is exploring and monitoring them for changes. Climate scientists and oceanographers are using AI technology to drive autonomous marine vehicles to the deepest depths. And some companies are developing autonomous garbage collection systems that would help remove plastics and floating debris.

Another emerging technology — blockchain — is helping to track fishing and identify illegal behavior. Blockchain is the same technology that powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. The technology acts as a transparent ledger for transactions. Blockchain is a decentralized system, which means it operates autonomously and isn’t subject to misuse and abuse. Trust is critical to international treaties that regulate fishing quotas and manage overfishing. Blockchain technology can record each fish (e.g., tuna) with a scannable code uploaded to the ledger. Therefore, retailers, customers, and regulators can confirm that fish are legally caught.

Air Pollution Detection

AI is becoming an invaluable tool for tracking our air quality and identifying sources of pollution. During accidental emissions, city air quality officials need to identify and respond quickly. Some European cities are using leak sensors and AI to help create emission maps, predict mortality rates, and estimate financial costs of emergency responses. These data points give decision makers a more accurate view of the air pollution along with more targeted remediation.

In addition to monitoring air pollution, AI is also cutting tailpipe emissions. AI manages self-driving cars to make getting from point A-to-B more efficient. Self-driving automobiles can cut oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 2% to 4% annually. AI and global positioning systems operating driverless tractor-trailer rigs will make deliveries non-stop, faster, and less costly to the planet. Complex algorithms, sensors, and traffic lights are directing traffic flow in some cities. These systems are currently reducing travel time by 25%, braking by 30%, and idling time by 40%.

Evaluating the Efficacy of Action

AI is bringing powerful ways to monitor and predict threats to our environment. Synthetic thinking adds value for scientists, officials, and policymakers by giving them deeper looks into current environmental situations. Perhaps, more than anything, AI’s biggest potential lies in figuring out where solutions hit the mark and where they miss. It’s counterproductive to invest resources and time into bad solutions. But that’s highly likely, given the complexity of climate change and adaptation.

Where do we invest? Which coastline needs saving the most? What communities are at a higher risk? With dwindling resources and bigger dangers, we will face some hard decisions in the future about where to deploy our efforts. At some point, those decisions will mean life or death. We will need quick thinking and accurate data. Evaluating our options and predicting their implications is where AI will bring the most value.

How Farmers Are Using Water Conservation

There is a quote attributed to Mark Twain: “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.” Water has always been the first and most precious resource for any community.

Mark Twain would have seen this along the Mississippi River and the towns and farms it supplied. Then he would observe the role water played in the West when he followed the pioneers out to California and Nevada in the 1860s.

In modern times, no one knows better how vital water is to all of us than farmers. They need to keep their crops alive and flourishing but also be sure they are protecting their water source for all the dry seasons to come.

Farms, both big and small, are becoming examples for harnessing and preserving this life-giving resource.

100 Years of Water Use in Northern California

Farmers have come a long way in their ability to use water wisely. Take a typical family in Northern California. Many from this region have been farming the same 100 acres of land on the Sacramento River for 105 years.

Through three generations, the family has had horses, grapes, apples, nectarines, and apricots on the property. But the main crop has only changed once: peaches until the 1950s, and prunes to the current day.

The current farmers have a particular interest in water conservation. They have educated themselves on the best irrigation methods for crops in this area of the country.

Flooding the Crop

In the beginning, like all the farms in the area, farmers would water their crops with flood irrigation when the ground was dry. A pump would deliver water from a well into one field at a time. Water would stay in the field inside boundaries of built-up earth, and seep down to the roots.

Flood irrigation is simple and requires minimal equipment, but for most crops, it is an inefficient use of water. Often, it used about four acre-feet of water per year.

Sprinklers

To use less water and gain a little more precision about where the water went, farmers switched to a system of pipes and sprinklers. Workers would move large metal pipes from one section of the orchard to the next. They hooked the pipes up to the pump and pointed the spray directly onto the trees.

The sprinkler method used about three acre-feet of water per year. A significant improvement, but still not as efficient as they would like to be in a place where water supply is always at risk.

Hose and Drip

Now, the orchards used drip irrigation. The farmers lay flexible black roll pipe directly along the rows of trees, lining up the holes with the tree roots. Water goes only to the trees and is no longer watering all the weeds in the spaces between the rows.

The drip irrigation system has reduced water use to one acre-foot of water per year on some California farms. Combine this simple but efficient system with modern sensors to measure real-time water output, and every single drop of water is put to work.

Using Modern Tools to Measure Water

Finding the right method of water delivery for the land is the first and most significant step to managing your water source wisely. But modern-day farmers don’t stop there.

Tracking Where the Water Is

Farmers across the country use tools installed on their property to understand what the water is doing precisely on their land.

Ground sensors at one, two, three, and four feet deep in the soil track where the water level is below the surface. Ground sensors can be part of a tool such as a DTN ag weather station, which can send current moisture data and weather readings from each field.

A weather station can also tell the farmer what the soil temperature is, and how quickly the water is leaving their land and crops through evapotranspiration.

A pressure bomb can tell a farmer exactly how much water is available to a tree. Just before dawn, he takes a piece of plant and puts it inside the pressure bomb chamber. He then slowly adds pressurized gas until water comes out of the leaf or plant.

If it took too long for the pressure to extract water, the farmer knows his plants are not getting the supply they need. Taking a measurement predawn is usually the most indicative of how much moisture the plant has access to overall. However, farmers will often take a sample midday to learn about the stress level of the plant when the sun is the hottest.

Using Tools to Know the Weather

Every farmer knows the most valuable tool they have in conserving water is understanding the weather patterns in their area. The most efficient irrigation system is still wasting water if they spend one day saturating their crop, then watch the rain falling for free the next.

Organizations like the California Irrigation Management Information System will give access to weather data collected from a system of weather stations throughout a designated area. Farmers can learn things like:

  • How much water their kind of crop has used in their area
  • What the precipitation pattern has been in the past
  • What the weather is likely to do next.

Many farms see value in investing in weather stations directly on their property. Knowing precisely what the crop needs, and whether there will be rain soon, can save the farm thousands of dollars each day. And as more farmers become experts on what the water is doing on their land, they can work together to preserve the water in their area.

Taking Advantage of Water Education in Nebraska

The states of the Great Plains know how precious water can be. Eight states draw their water from the Ogallala Aquifer, stretching across 175,000 square miles. The U.S. Geological Survey states the aquifer level has dropped an average of 16 feet in the last several decades.

When the aquifer was being formed about 10 million years ago, it was fed by runoff into its western edge by the Rockies. That water source has since been closed off by erosion, and the water level depends solely on precipitation.

Farmers are Becoming Experts on Water Behavior

The farmers who depend on the Ogallala Aquifer know the urgency of using the water they have wisely. That’s why 1,500 farmers and cooperators have joined the Nebraska Agricultural Water Management Network (NAWMN).

The NAWMN is a knowledge-sharing group that tests out water-saving technologies. They share their experiences with types of irrigation, water sensors, erosion-reducing crops, and soil, among many other water-related topics. They are educating each other, and everyone who draws from the Ogallala aquifer will benefit.

Many farms in Nebraska use pivot-irrigation to bring water to their crops. Long pipes on wheels suspended over that crop rotate around a center pivot, creating the circular fields easy to spot from an airplane.

Pivot irrigation has been around for 50 years, but low-pressure nozzles and water sensors in the ground are making them more efficient than ever before.

When the surface of the ground starts to look dry, it’s natural to think it’s time to begin supplementing the crop’s water supply. But if ground sensors are saying the roots are still drinking, the sprinklers can wait a few more days.

A farmer can save about $2,000 for every 2 inches of water he doesn’t use. And that water stays where it is, ready to use on an even drier day.

Backing up Instinct

Strong instinct has always been an indispensable trait of a successful farmer. Farmers who know their land, their crops and their weather will have a much better chance of success. Today’s farmers know that. They still rely on their gut, but thanks to modern technologies, they can make informed decisions better than ever before.

Biogas and Rural Development

Anaerobic digestion has proven to be a beneficial technology in various spheres for rural development. Biogas produced is a green replacement of unprocessed fuels (like fuel wood, dung cakes, crop residues). It is a cost effective replacement for dung cakes and conventional domestic fuels like LPG or kerosene. Biogas technology has the potential to meet the energy requirements in rural areas, and also counter the effects of reckless burning of biomass resources.

Biogas has the potential to rejuvenate India’s agricultural sector

An additional benefit is that the quantity of digested slurry is the same as that of the feedstock fed in a biogas plant. This slurry can be dried and sold as high quality compost. The nitrogen-rich compost indirectly reduces the costs associated with use of fertilizers. It enriches the soil, improves its porosity, buffering capacity and ion exchange capacity and prevents nutrient depletion thus improving the crop quality. This means increased income for the farmer.

Further, being relatively-clean cooking fuel; biogas reduces the health risks associated with conventional chulhas. Thinking regionally, decreased residue burning brings down the seasonal high pollutant levels in air, ensuring a better environmental quality. Anaerobic digestion thus proves to be more efficient in utilization of crop residues. The social benefits associated with biomethanation, along with its capacity to generate income for the rural households make it a viable alternative for conventional methods.

The Way Forward

The federal and stage governments needs to be more proactive in providing easy access to these technologies to the poor farmers. The policies and support of the government are decisive in persuading the farmers to adopt such technologies and to make a transition from wasteful traditional approaches to efficient resource utilization. The farmers are largely unaware of the possible ways in which farm and cattle wastes could be efficiently utilised. The government agencies and NGOs are major stakeholders in creating awareness in this respect.

Moreover, many farmers find it difficult to bear the construction and operational costs of setting up the digester. This again requires the government to introduce incentives (like soft loans) and subsidies to enhance the approachability of the technology and thus increase its market diffusion.

Biogas from Agricultural Wastes

The main problem with anaerobic digestion of agricultural wastes is that most of the agricultural residues are lignocellulosic with low nitrogen content. To obtain biogas from agricultural wastes, pre-treatment methods like size reduction, electron irradiation, heat treatment, enzymatic action etc are necessary. For optimizing the C/N ratio of agricultural residues, co-digestion with sewage sludge, animal manure or poultry litter is recommended.

Agriculture_Waste_Biogas

Types of Agricultural Wastes

Several organic wastes from plants and animals have been exploited for biogas production as reported in the literature. Plant materials include agricultural crops such as sugar cane, cassava, corn etc, agricultural residues like rice straw, cassava rhizome, corn cobs etc, wood and wood residues (saw dust, pulp wastes, and paper mill waste)

Others include molasses and bagasse from sugar refineries, waste streams such as rice husk from rice mills and residues from palm oil extraction and municipal solid wastes, etc. However, plant materials such as crop residues are more difficult to digest than animal wastes (manures) because of difficulty in achieving hydrolysis of cellulosic and lignocellulosic constituents.

Codigestion of Crop Wastes

Crop residues can be digested either alone or in co-digestion with other materials, employing either wet or dry processes. In the agricultural sector one possible solution to processing crop biomass is co-digested together with animal manures, the largest agricultural waste stream.

In addition to the production of renewable energy, controlled anaerobic digestion of animal manures reduces emissions of greenhouse gases, nitrogen and odour from manure management, and intensifies the recycling of nutrients within agriculture.

In co-digestion of plant material and manures, manures provide buffering capacity and a wide range of nutrients, while the addition of plant material with high carbon content balances the carbon to nitrogen (C/N) ratio of the feedstock, thereby decreasing the risk of ammonia inhibition.

The gas production per digester volume can be increased by operating the digesters at a higher solids concentration. Batch high solids reactors, characterized by lower investment costs than those of continuously fed processes, but with comparable operational costs, are currently applied in the agricultural sector to a limited extent.

Codigestion offers good opportunity to farmers to treat their own waste together with other organic substrates. As a result, farmers can treat their own residues properly and also generate additional revenues by treating and managing organic waste from other sources and by selling and/or using the products viz heat, electrical power and stabilised biofertiliser.

Solar-Powered Pumps are Game-Changing for Agriculture

The first thing that comes to mind when you hear solar power is a solar panel placed on a rooftop for creating electricity for commercial or residential use. However, solar power has another important function – to mine and deliver water to improve productivity. This is especially applicable in sunny nations like Australia and most countries in Africa since its main industry is agriculture. Still, their productivity is suffering since their fields don’t get sufficient irrigation. Though, using solar pumps, they can double or even triple their profits. These economic gains can improve the lives of many farming communities.

Importance of Water in Agriculture

Our lives depend on clean water. The developed countries can sometimes take water for granted, but the evolving economies understand the significance of this commodity. A solar pump is an ecological option to get water for the crops and deliver drinkable, clean water.

The founder and CEO of the British-American company Ignite Power, Yariv Cohen, confirmed that solar pumps brought more efficiency, leading to bigger disposable income and more employment. Farmers can now grow three seasons per year instead of one. So, disposable income increased by 20% to 30%.

60% of the Sub-Saharan Africa population is employed in agriculture. Therefore, agriculture is accountable for 60% of economic output. This is less productive than the other regions in the world since only a part of the farmland gets constant irrigation – just 6% across Africa. Most farmlands go without irrigation, so most farmers in Africa rely only on rain for the larger lands, while they take care of the smaller areas with manual effort.

What is Solar-Powered Pumping System

The solar-powered pumping systems include a solar panel array, which fuels an electric motor. The motor, in turn, fuels the surface pump. The water is pumped from the stream or ground into a storage tank, utilized to water crops. If the farmland is irrigated consistently with solar pumps, the farmers will double the production compared to farmlands irrigated by rainwater or with manual effort.

Life-changing mechanism

About 600 million who live in Africa don’t have consistent electricity access. This is damaging the economic health of the continent. Everyone knows the ideal solution is to expand the electrical grid, but financial and geographical considerations prevent that. Ignite Power provides off-grid solutions to African countries in rural places like Nigeria, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone.

Cohen explains how solar pumps allow the farmers to irrigate their lands by using the sun. They first connect the homes, and then they utilize the same solar panels to water the fields. Using solar power, the pump enables a big area to be regularly irrigated. This improves the yield affordably.

Ignite Power has 1.1 million customers in Africa. So, there is room for enormous growth for his company and other providers of solar power in the continent. Cohen aims to reach 500 million houses.

They work with the bank and try to find the ideal solutions. They want to provide the best solution for the country with the help of the government. They can connect any payment providers or manufacturers to their system. They can connect all the suppliers, so many people could join.

The case of the two Rwandan women Grace Uwas (23) and Tharcille Tuyisenge (20) is admirable. They started working with Cohen’s company and bought solar systems for homes in Rwamagana, so people there have sustainable and safe electricity. Until now, they have installed twenty-five solar systems and more are coming!

Bottom Line

Electricity is the quintessence for any country. The solar power is game changing for African evolving communities to get access. In this way, they won’t just keep their lights on, but their agricultural productivity will be improved.

Biomass Exchange – Key to Success in Biomass Projects

Biomass exchange is emerging as a key factor in the progress of biomass energy sector. It is well-known that the supply chain management in any biomass project is a big management conundrum. The complexity deepens owing to the large number of stages which encompass the entire biomass value chain. It starts right from biomass resource harvesting and goes on to include biomass collection, processing, storage and eventually its transportation to the point of ultimate utilization.

biomass-exchange

Owing to the voluminous nature of the resource, its handling becomes a major issue since it requires bigger modes of biomass logistics, employment of a larger number of work-force and a better storage infrastructure, as compared to any other fuel or feedstock. Not only this their lower energy density characteristic, makes it inevitable for the resource to be first processed and then utilized for power generation to make for better economics.

All these problems call for a mechanism to strengthen the biomass value chain. This can be done by considering the following:

  • Assuring a readily available market for the resource providers or the producers
  • Assuring the project developers of a reliable chain and consistent feedstock availability
  • Awareness to the project developer of the resources in closest proximity to the plant site
  • Assurance to the project developer of the resource quality
  • Timely pick-up and drop of resource
  • Proper fuel preparation as per technology requirements
  • Removal of intermediaries involved in the process – to increase value for both, the producers as well as the buyers
  • No need for long term contracts (Not an obligation)
  • Competitive fuel prices
  • Assistance to producers in crop management

Biomass Exchange Model

The figure below gives a general understanding of how such a model could work, especially in the context of developing nations where the size of land holdings is usually small and the location of resources is scattered, making their procurement a highly uneconomic affair. This model is commonly known as Biomass Exchange

In such a model, the seed, fertilizer shops and other local village level commercial enterprises could be utilized as an outreach or marketing platform for such a service.  Once the producer approves off the initial price estimate, as provided by these agencies, he could send a sample of the feedstock to the pre-deputed warehouses for a quality check.

These warehouses need to be organized at different levels according to the village hierarchy and depending on the size, cultivated area and local logistic options available in that region. On assessing the feedstock sample’s quality, these centers would release a plausible quote to the farmer after approving which, he would be asked to supply the feedstock.

On the other hand, an entity in need of the feedstock would approach the biomass exchange, where it would be appraised of the feedstock available in the region near its utilization point and made aware of the quantity and quality of the feedstock. The entity would then quote a price according to its suitability which would be relayed to the primary producer.

An agreement from both the sides would entail the placement of order and the feedstock’s subsequent processing and transportation to the buyer’s gate. The pricing mechanisms could be numerous ranging from, fixed (according to quality), bid-based or even market-driven.

Roadblocks

The hurdles could be in the form of the initial resource assessment which could in itself be a tedious and time consuming exercise. Another roadblock could be in the form of engaging the resource producers with such a mechanism. Since these would usually involve rural landscapes, things could prove to be a little difficult in terms of implementation of initial capacity building measures and concept marketing.

Benefits

The benefits of  a biomass exchange are enumerated below:

  • Support to the ever increasing power needs of the country
  • Promotion of biomass energy technologies
  • Development of rural infrastructure
  • Increased opportunities for social and micro-entrepreneurship
  • Creation of direct and indirect job opportunities
  • Efficient utilization of biomass wastes
  • Potential of averting millions of tonnes of GHGs emissions

Conclusions

In India alone, there has been several cases where biomass power projects of the scale greater than 5 MW are on sale already, even with their power purchase agreements still in place. Such events necessitate the need to have a mechanism in place which would further seek the promotion of such technologies.

Biomass Exchange is an attractive solution to different problems afflicting biomass projects, at the same time providing the investors and entrepreneurs with a multi-million dollar opportunity. Although such a concept has been in existence in the developed world for a long time now, it has not witnessed many entrepreneurial ventures in developing nations where the need to strengthen the biomass supply chain becomes even more necessary.

However, one needs to be really careful while initiating such a model since it cannot be blindly copied from Western countries owing to entirely different land-ownership patterns, regional socio-political conditions and economic framework. With a strong backup and government support, such an idea could go a long way in strengthening the biomass supply chain, promotion of associated clean energy technologies and in making a significant dent in the present power scenario in the developing world.