In the news


AeroVironment’s hybrid drone ushers in the next generation in flight

Imagine not having to choose between a fixed-wing UAV and a quadcopter for your farm, but instead getting the best of both worlds.

Later this year, AeroVironment, a California-based company built around decades of military drone technology, will be entering the ag sector with its hybrid craft called Quantix. The drone was on display at the National Farm Machinery Show, where AGDAILY got not just a closeup look at the machine itself, but we got to try out the control system.

Despite technology being vital to the success of our farms, it’s rarely a surprise to hear some reluctance to having to learn to use new tools and to adopt new programs.

“One of the major things we did with the Quantix drone was design it around the user experience,” said Matt Strein, AeroVironment’s Director of Business Development. “It’s easily adaptable.”

He was right.

The past couple of years were spent honing the traits of Quantix, which including seeking help at the university level to bring the concept together and assure its value to the ag community.

“Where we differentiate ourselves [from our competitors] is in the user experience, in the ecosystem that’s fully integrated with hardware and software, and with creating actionable intelligence,” Strein said.

The fully automated Quantix drone has removed the cumbersome task of drawing up a flight plan for the user. All you need to do it feed it some basic details to help it find the right field, approve the weather conditions, and give it the go-ahead. It takes off vertically and then transitions to fly horizontally, going up to 400 acres on one battery in 45 minutes. While the drone does most of the thinking, you’re still the operator, and you can choose to land it any time you want using the tablet-based Ground Control System.

AeroVironment has created all the hardware and software for the machine, as well as the mobile app.

“The second our craft hits the ground,” Strein said, “you can see the field in an RGB view and NDVI.” (On RGB, it provides 1-inch pixels; on NDVI, it’s 2-inch pixels.) Crop issues can be addressed immediately. To obtain advanced analytics, the drone’s data can be uploaded to a portal, where AeroVironment processes it to further help identify anomalies in plant health.

“In our fully automated system, we’ve optimized what those sensors are doing,” Strein said.

The data will be stored securely in the cloud for growers to view either on their mobile device or on a desktop computer. The platform is equipped with an alert system that instantly notifies farmers of anomalies in the field so that immediate action can be taken to address stressors.

This is at least two years in the making, and it incorporated tens of thousands of acres of cropland into perfecting its analysis abilities. The Quantix drone is poised to usher in the next generation of drone flight.


Monsanto progresses on carbon neutral operational footprint

According to Monsanto’s 2016 Sustainability Report, Growing Better Together, the company is right on track to achieving a carbon neutral operational footprint by 2021 and in promoting climate-smart agriculture practices.

“We understand the crucial role agriculture has in feeding the world while utilizing the least amount of resources possible. We are committed to helping farmers grow more food using fewer resources and together, we have made meaningful progress against our goal of advancing modern agriculture,” said Pam Strifler, Vice President, Global Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement at Monsanto in a recent release. “Sustainability is firmly embedded in our business and aligned across three broad areas – people, planet, and company. As we look back on fiscal year 2016, we take great pride that we’re on track to meet key environmental and social milestones.”

In 2016, Monsanto attained 89 percent of its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from crop protection operations by 22 percent (per pound of active ingredient) by 2020. The company also established the Carbon-Neutral Collaborative to help develop a scalable and verifiable carbon accounting framework for the agriculture industry, and commissioned and publicly shared a third-party study showing that widespread adoption of recommended climate smart agricultural practices could potentially absorb more carbon than 2.5 billion tree seedlings grown for 10 years, in the U.S. alone.

The 2016 report also outlines how the company’s work contributes to achieving the United Nations’ SDGs, a universal call to action to address the world’s most pressing economic, social, and environmental challenges.

In 2016, Monsanto also published its company position on biodiversity, which formalizes its long-standing advocacy for biodiversity and is aligned with the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, stating, in part, that the company works to “conserve and promote the sustainable use of biodiversity within species, between species, and of ecosystems as it relates to our research, products, and practices.” As part of this advocacy, Monsanto surpassed its 2016 goal of establishing monarch habitats at 70 of its US production and research facilities.

Other highlights from the 2016 report include the following:

People: Reached approximately 7 million people with Off-the-Job Safety content through in-person events and social media efforts. Maintained an excellent occupational safety record, including an injury severity rate of .53, which represents a 48 percent improvement since 2011. Helped 250,000 rural community members in India adopt healthy and hygienic lifestyles as part of Monsanto’s WBCSD Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) pledge.

Planet: Attained 47 percent of goal to increase irrigation water application efficiency across its global seed production operation by 25 percent by 2020.
Continued working with Conservation International to protect and restore forests with nearly 42,000 acres of forests already impacted in Brazil and Indonesia since 2008.

Company: Conducted second annual Supplier Sustainability Assessment to weigh the economic, environmental, and social profiles and behaviors of strategic suppliers. Implemented formal community engagement plans at 100 percent of manufacturing sites around the globe.

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Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics podcast dives into GMOs

Want to know why farmers are so frustrated when anti-science activism is used to dispute modern farming techniques? Because when scientists peel back the layers of farming, they are overwhelmingly supportive of today’s agricultural efforts. Among those key topics is GMOs.

Linda Snetselaar, Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and Ruth MacDonald, Professor and Chair of Food Science and Human Nutrition and Assistant Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University, spoke about genetically modified organisms during a recent podcast. They discuss what GMOs are, the uses of GMOs, research related to safety, and trends in GMO labeling policies.

Among the highlights:

  • GMO grains fed to animals do not change the composition of meat, milk, or eggs.
  • There haven’t been any allergic reactions documented for GMO crops.
  • Most scientific organizations approve of the safety of GMOs.
  • A 2016 study found “no differences that implicate a higher risk to human health from GE foods than from their non-GE counterparts.”

Listen to the whole podcast to get a well-informed scientific perspective on what today’s use of GMOs is all about.


West Virginia FFA to host 74th Ham, Bacon, and Egg Sale

Since 1941, the West Virginia FFA has netted $1,361,222.78 and it’s all in the name of protein.

The state’s FFA association has held 73 Ham, Bacon, and Egg Show and Sales since the first one was held 74 years ago, at the Daniel Boone Hotel in Charleston. A total of 7,846 hams, 5,760 cuts of bacon, and 4,013 dozen eggs have been sold.

“The sale started as a way to showcase FFA member’s agricultural enterprises and provide an opportunity to have a value-added product auctioned off to consumers representing grocery stores, business, and local and state community members,” said Jason Hughes, State FFA Advisor, West Virginia.

From there the event has flourished and has become an extensive project for the FFA students.

“FFA members involved with the event see the entire process all the way through. The students purchase feeder pigs, provide the animal with feed, water, and medicine until they reach the ideal market weight,” Hughes said. “The market hogs are then slaughtered at an inspected facility and students receive the carcass back to process into retail cuts, and then the hams and bacons are cured with a dry cure mix and smoked.”

Sponsored annually by the Governor’s Office, the West Virginia Department of Agriculture, and the West Virginia Department of Education, the Ham, Bacon, and Egg Show and Sales have seen some impressive transactions over the years:

  • The first sale in 1941 amounted to a total of $204.82. The prize ham sold for $23.63; the prize bacon for $2.75; and the prize dozen eggs for $2.25.
  • The largest sale was held in 1981, with the total sales amounting to $53,624.24.
  • The highest price paid for a champion ham was $11,977 by Jack Catalano, owner of the Central Distributing Company. The ham was exhibited by Jerry Hostutler of Hundred in 1975.
  • The highest price paid for a champion bacon was $6,400 by Kroger Mid-Atlantic in 2007. The bacon was exhibited by Phillip Dennison of Valley High School.
  • The top price for the champion eggs (dozen) was $10,000 by Kroger Mid-Atlantic in 2007. The eggs were exhibited by Kim Riley of Cameron High School.
  • Last year, buyers spent $32,228 on 50 hams, 50 cuts of bacon, and 10 dozen eggs.

Hughes said the West Virginia FFA association has worked diligently to keep up with consumer demand over the years.

“The genetics of the swine have changed to meet consumer demands,” Hughes said. “A leaner product is what today’s consumer is looking for compared to the past when the product possessed a lot more fat.”

Hughes does throw caution to other state associations looking to adopt a program like the Ham, Bacon, and Eggs Show and Sales.

“They need to realize it is a lot of work for all involved and a tremendous investment as the local schools that participate all have modern state-of-the-art meat processing facilities,” Hughes said.

This year’s West Virginia FFA Ham, Bacon, and Eggs Show and Sale will be held March 13 in Building 7 of the West Virginia Capitol Complex in Charleston at 7:00 p.m.

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West Virginia FFA to host 74th Ham, Bacon, and Egg Sale

Since 1941, the West Virginia FFA has netted $1,361,222.78 and it’s all in the name of protein. The state’s FFA association has held 73 Ham, Bacon, and Egg Show and Sales since the first one was held 74 years ago, at the Daniel Boone Hotel in Charleston. A total of 7,846 hams, 5,760 cuts of […]