Organic Ag Podcast Features Innovative Industry Topics
“There’s a Droid on that Farm” – Organic Innovators Share their Experiences in a New Podcast Series
One of the myths of organic farming is that it’s “old-fashioned,” not in tune with the latest technologies. A new series of podcasts and webinars is dispelling that myth to advance organic agriculture by highlighting the successes of innovative organic farmers and scientists working with organic agriculture technologies. The series, funded in part by the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research (FFAR) and The Organic Center 2022 Organic Training for Agricultural Professionals Prize, supports Iowa State University’s Organic Agriculture Program (ISU OAP) in expanding its organic production education through train-the-trainer and organic certification workshops, videos, podcasts, carbon sequestration webinars and field days.
Why is it Important to Share Organic Farming Success Stories?
Organic agriculture is a $63 billion industry with more than 17,445 organic farms on 8.2 million certified organic acres. Research has shown many benefits of organic farming compared to conventional agriculture, including improved soil fertility for healthy plants, a smaller carbon footprint, and a reduced risk of human, animal and environmental exposure to toxic materials. But transitioning to organic farming can be confusing, costly and labor-intensive. Barriers include startup costs, weed control and fertility management, and lack of education and producer support to help overcome production challenges. As a result, we need to arm agriculture professionals with the necessary tools to educate more farmers about organic farming best practices so organic farms can thrive and sustainably meet consumers’ growing demand for organic products.
As a professor of agronomy and horticulture at Iowa State University, I work with many of the 800 organic farmers in Iowa, which is one of the top-ranking organic states, producing the greatest amount of organic corn and soybeans in the U.S. While organic agriculture dictates the avoidance of synthetic chemicals and relies on more biological and mechanical methods for weed management, for example, it does not preclude the use of machines and equipment that can help with improving efficiency on the farm. These podcasts and webinars share how organic producers are using some of the latest, cutting-edge technology to farm organically and profitably.
The First Podcast: Innovations in Organic Ag
In the first of the podcast series, Innovations in Organic Ag, I interview four organic farmers and an organic researcher engaged in organic technologies that may offer some value in organic operations. As with all technology, the benefits of technological innovations must be evaluated along with any trade-offs, which are explored in this podcast. Among the podcast innovators, Seth Harbecke, who farms organically with his family in western Illinois, addresses the advantages of utilizing data tracking technologies like FieldView™. Seth believes this computer and smartphone app has helped with monitoring correlations between soils, weather and yields on many fields on their organic farm.
Other innovators featured in this first podcast include Levi Lyle, who farms organically in Washington, Iowa. From weed zapping to organic no-till, Levi highlights the latest tools and production practices he utilizes to help manage weeds in his organic system. Scott Shriver, who farms 2,000 organic acres in Jefferson, Iowa, shares in the podcast how he uses tractor steering guidance systems, like RTK, and provides a detailed explanation of how the technology works and how it can benefit larger organic operations. Michael O’Donnell, Crop Specialist with Grain Millers in Indiana, and the Farm Certification Manager for the 4,000-acre organic Living Prairie Family Farm in northwest Indiana, describes how he has been helping perfect organic strip tillage and other innovations.
Finally, Dr. Brad Heins, professor of organic animal science at the University of Minnesota, talks about his dairy management technologies, from robotic milkers to bio-sensors, which improve breeding success and herd management for organic producers. He concludes with Cow•Vac for natural fly management and their research on automated calf feeders.
Innovations in Organic Ag Webinars too
The “Innovations in Organic Ag” project also hosted a webinar with Dr. Bo Melander, agroecology professor from Aarhus University in Denmark. Some of the many innovative weeders highlighted in the webinar were the Robovator, a vision-based robotic cultivating machine, and the FarmDroid, a seeding and weeding robot that runs on solar power. When I witnessed this robotic weeder on an organic farm in Denmark last year, I was fascinated by the possibility of this robot freeing one from weeding, while not requiring a single drop of oil to run. Of course, the current price of such a sophisticated machine requires extensive acreage to justify its use, but the idea of equipment sharing or government support for promoting solar operations could alleviate some of this cost. And, with all technology, prices will eventually come down!
Stay Tuned for More Farmers Sharing Their Organic Farming Experiences
To learn more about how innovative organic farming practices are advancing organic production, check back on additional podcasts in the works in the series or read their transcripts on the podcast website. Additional information on the ISU OAP is available on the ISU OAP website.