Sustainable Agriculture News

Technology in Sustainable Agriculture

Today’s Agriculture is using best management practices (BMP’s), by targeting many of its applications, not broadcasting as was done in the past. New disease resistant hybrids, biological pest control, reduced pesticide use, cultural practices that reduce the incidence of pests and diseases, and better placement and reduced amounts of fertilizers are all being employed. Insect specific chemicals and biological insect controls are now being utilized, instead of broad-spectrum pesticides, that actually reduces the number of sprays needed along with costs. Micro-sprinkler water is now being applied directly to the roots, not overhead or flooding of the entire block as was done in the past. Agriculture manages land for both agriculture and wildlife.

In citrus, technology has helped growers in many areas to reduce costs and improve production. Growers use disease resistant varieties where possible. Research and biotechnology have given growers new plant varieties that produce more and require fewer inputs.

Integrated pest management have greatly reduced the applications of pesticides and the costs associated with sprays. For fruit that is processed into juice, only one or two sprays per year are applied to prevent fungal diseases that affect leaves. Most insects and diseases that cause fruit blemishes are ignored because outside appearance of fruit does not affect juice quality. However, healthy leaves are required to produce an economical crop. For fruit that is sold fresh and has to look its best before consumers will purchase it, IPM is employed with pest population levels monitored carefully. Sprays are only applied when an economical threshold is reached.

Fertilizers are often placed directly to the root zone using under-tree booms and/or through irrigation systems with computer control. Herbicides are used under the tree to control weeds that compete for water and fertilizer, thus reducing crop yield. Irrigation is only applied when the root zone moisture is depleted to a critical level.

Precision Agriculture is now coming to citrus production. An expert system called DISC, Decision Information Systems for Citrus is a computer tool where disease models, on a CD-ROM will interact with localized weather data from the Internet and grower inputs to help predict if and when disease conditions will be great enough to warrant a spray application. Knowing under what moisture and temperature conditions favor certain fungus diseases, a model, with real time weather data from a nearby weather station, or a weather station located on your property, can automatically be imported into a model to predict the disease pressure and tell you whether it is economically feasible to spray.

DISC Pre-plant models will help citrus growers to determine which rootstocks and grafted scion varieties (the top producing plant part) are best suited for a particular soil on your property. These models will be based on GPS, Global Positioning Systems, using satellites and soil maps plus the knowledge of citrus scientists and growers. GPS-GIS, Global Positioning Systems, Graphical Information Systems, will help growers utilize Precision Agriculture by matching inputs based on actual yields of different portions on the field or grove. If the soils on a particular area only yield so much, you can cut back on fertilizers in that area, thus saving money and the leaching of excess fertilizer into the surface water. Where soils are low in organic matter, less herbicides can be applied. Equipment capable of varying applications of fertilizers and chemicals need to be developed with GPS systems and groves need to be mapped to identify the needs of specific areas. These have to be, and will be, cost beneficial to be able to utilize this new technology. Already, many growers use sprayers that turn nozzles off and on depending on tree size using special sensors. For a large tree, all of the nozzles are open. For a small tree, only the lower nozzles are activated. If there is a dead or missing tree, all of the nozzles are turned off. This alone has saved some growers in excess of 30% of spray material costs and has reduced the amount of chemicals being applied.

By using the best hybrids, specialized applications of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, maximum economical production per acre can be realized. Without these inputs, more acreage would need to be cleared and farmed in the future to be able to provide the world’s growing population with safe, high-quality, and affordable supply of food and fiber. The most environmentally friendly solution is to upgrade all of the existing acreage, not clear more land to simply accommodate a shift due to economic reasons.