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The 2008 Farm Bill: Making an Impact through NIFA

Investing in Agricultural Systems and Technology

Agricultural systems—both crop and animal—involve issues such as labor, marketing, finances, natural resources, genetic stock, and equipment. Projects that NIFA supports address these issues as a system, rather than individually, because a holistic approach offers greater management flexibility, safer working conditions, and a more sound economic and environment.

NIFA'S AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS AND TECHNOLOGY PORTFOLIO INCLUDES:

Manure and Nutrient Management

Manure is a valuable, slow-release fertilizer that allows farmers to recycle animal waste back into the environment; however, too much can cause a multitude of problems. NIFA-funded projects work to ease many of these problems, including odors, nitrogen, greenhouse gases, and the accumulation of pathogens.

Organic Agriculture

The organic industry is the fastest growing segment of U.S. agriculture. Organic agricultural systems and practices provide many environmental services and environmental stewardship is a key principle. Programs such as NIFA’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative address issues critical to organic agriculture through research, education, and extension activities.

Farm Safety

Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country, with hundreds of farmers killed on the job each year and thousands more injured. Many of the NIFA-enabled programs help train farm workers to do their jobs more safely. The agency also supports USDA’s AgrAbility program, which trains thousands of disabled farmers and ranchers to remain active in the profession.

Technology

Rapid advances in biological, chemical, and physical sciences expand knowledge of agriculture and the environment. Technology translates scientific knowledge into action. NIFA-funded programs support technology development, academic training, and technology transfer to ensure safer, higher quality foods; more efficient agricultural practices; and to enhance job growth.

SECURING OUR FUTURE IN AGRICULTURAL SYSTEMS AND TECHNOLOGY

Innovative technology thins fruit but fattens profits

Deciduous fruit trees produce more fruit than is needed to make a profitable crop, but the only reliable current strategy for removing excess fruit is hand-thinning. This practice can require as much as 100 laborer hours per acre, or 10 people who each work for 10 hours on each acre of orchard. Depending on the region, this can cost $750 to $1,120 per acre. An integrated team led by Penn State University, and including members from Washington State University, University of California–Davis, and Clemson University, has developed an automated system for fruit thinning that can reduce the labor requirement by 50 percent. For peach crops, these tractor-mounted or handheld thinners also resulted in better fruit quality and yield to an average net economic output of $694 per acre. Nationally, the annual economic benefit to peach growers is $82.5 million and a labor reduction of 5.9 million hours, which could increase the revenue of rural economies by $181.5 million per year. The project is expanding into other crops (apple, cherry, and plum) with similar results. Adoption of this program across all potential crops could translate to a positive economic impact on rural economies of almost $1 billion per year.

Kentucky private foresters learn tricks of the trade

Extension programs in Kentucky trained 7,827 family forest owners on better forest management, stewardship practices, and invasive species management. Cumulatively, this resulted in over 505,880 acres protected or improved. In addition, logger and forest industry training resulted in 312 jobs being created or saved; 269 firms that were established or expanded; and $126.6 million earned or saved. The fiscal impact from logging programs resulted in $101 million in direct stumpage revenue to family forest owners. The total contribution of supporting industries to the economy of Kentucky through the production of finished paper and wood products was approximately $1.32 billion.

Disaster Education through Smartphone and YouTube technologies

Floods are the most common and widespread of all natural disasters—except fire—and most communities in the United States have experienced some kind of flooding. North Dakota State University Extension Service has developed a series of disaster-related smartphone applications and YouTube videos to address many of the challenges associated with flooding. These technologies provide guidelines related to emergency management and prevention and help users record property damage to their property using text, images, and audio through their smartphones. Since the project’s inception, consumers have downloaded the Disaster Recovery Log more than 2,500 times and the Winter Survival Kit more than 64,000 times. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognized this project with the FEMA 2012 Individual and Community Preparedness Award for Innovative Use of Technology. NIFA, FEMA, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are collaborating to increase the scale of this project to a national level.

New Mississippi technology detects juvenile lumber

Harvesting juvenile wood from plantation pine acreage results in production of weak lumber, warp-prone lumber, weak composite products, buckling in plywood veneers, and weak paper products—a condition that results in an annual loss of $550 million to the lumber manufacturing industry. Researchers in Mississippi State University’s Department of Forest Products have developed and patented a scanner that can detect juvenile wood in green lumber in the sawmill. Segregating juvenile lumber and using warp-reducing techniques to dry it has led to the recovery of a considerable portion of previously lost revenue.

Penn State pilot program brings farm safety training to Hispanic youth

Agriculture is one of the nation’s most hazardous industries. While agricultural safety and health training material does exist, it is primarily available only in English—which is not very useful to the Spanish-speaking workers who represent a large portion of the nation’s agricultural workforce. A Penn State pilot program transformed existing curricula into Spanish and included culturally appropriate examples and illustrations, an instructor manual, and 38 short Spanish-language video clips—all available on hand-held electronic devices. The materials are online and are available to instructors and Cooperative Extension agents across the country.

Alabama precision agriculture leads to a cleaner environment and increased profits

Precision agriculture adoption in Alabama continues to increase, with producers implementing technology on nearly 70 percent of crop land. When farmers adopt these modern tools, they see an estimated 10-percent reduction in applied fertilizers and pesticides—approximately $22 million, statewide. Part of the state’s success in this area is attributable to Auburn University’s membership in the Transatlantic Precision Agriculture Consortium, which includes Auburn, the University of Georgia, Mississippi State, and three European universities. The consortium’s goal is to foster global awareness and competence of students, faculty, and staff by sharing the latest developments in precision agriculture.

Washington small business produces value-added environmental product

Forest Concepts, located in Auburn, WA, has successfully commercialized a soil erosion product called “WoodStraw.” Using funds from an SBIR award, WoodStraw is made from low-grade waste wood veneer and resembles oversized pick-up sticks. WoodStraw replaces grass straw, which contains seeds and can be easily blown away by wind. Woodstraw can be easily baled and thus transported by truck to where it is needed and spread by hand, straw blower, or helicopter. In initial field trials, WoodStraw reduced erosion by more than 98 percent and has proven especially effective in reducing erosion in areas that have been impacted by forest fires. WoodStraw has improved the sustainability of independent veneer mills by providing a value-added outlet for low-grade veneer and offering a sustainable, ecologically compatible year-round erosion control product at a competitive price.

Precision nursery irrigation via wireless sensor network

One of the most important decisions for nurseries is how to best manage dwindling water resources. A University of Maryland-led integrated project team is developing strategies to help growers precisely monitor crop water needs with wireless sensors. This system will allow growers to irrigate only those areas that need it and in the exact amounts they need. One Georgia nursery was able to increase profitability by over $46,000 per acre by reducing water use and increasing the number of marketable plants. Water use at this nursery has been reduced by at least 50 percent. According to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, if 75 percent of the nation’s 3.3 million acres of nursery crops adopt wireless sensor networks, nurseries could increase profitability by $113.4 billion per year. Further, this improvement in irrigation efficiency would save over 2.5 trillion gallons of water per year—enough water for approximately 78.9 million people.

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