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Harnessing rich satellite data to estimate crop yield

Without advanced sensing technology, humans see only a small portion of the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Satellites see the full range—from high-energy gamma rays, to visible, infrared, and low-energy microwaves. The images and data they collect can be used to solve complex problems. For example, satellite data is being harnessed by researchers at the University of Illinois for a more complete picture of cropland and to estimate crop yield in the U.S. Corn Belt.In places where we may see just the color green in crops, electromagnetic imaging from satellites reveals much more information about what’s actually happening in the leaves of plants and even inside the canopy. How to leverage this information is the challenge,” says Kaiyu Guan, an environmental scientist at the U of I and the lead author on the research. “Using various spectral bands and looking at them in an integrated way, reveals rich information for improving crop yield.” Guan says this work is the first time that so many spectral bands, including visible, infrared, thermal, and passive and active microwave, and canopy fluorescence measurements have been brought together to look at crops. “We used an integrated framework called Partial Least-Square Regression to analyze all of the data together. This specific approach can identify commonly shared information across the different data sets. When we pull the shared information out from each data set, what’s left is the unique information relevant to vegetation conditions and crop yield.” The study uncovers that the many satellite data sets share common information related to crop biomass grown aboveground. However, the researchers also discover that different satellite data can reveal environmental stresses that crops experience related to drought and heat. Guan says the challenging aspect of crop observation is that the grain, which is what crop yield is all about, grows inside the canopy, where it isn’t visible from above. “Visible or near-infrared bands typically used for crop monitoring are mainly sensitive to the upper canopy, but provide little information about deeper vegetation and soil conditions affecting crop water status and yield,” says John Kimball from University of Montana, a long-term collaborator with Guan and a coauthor of the paper. “Our study suggests that the microwave radar data at the Ku-band contains uniquely useful information on crop growth,” Guan says. “Besides the biomass information, it also contains additional information associated with crop water stress because of the higher microwave sensitivity to canopy water content, and microwave can also penetrate the canopy and see through part or all the canopy. We also find that thermal bands provide water and heat stress information,” Guan says. “This information tells us when leaves open or close their pores to breathe and absorb carbon for growth.” Coauthor David Lobell from Stanford University, who crafted the idea with Guan, says leveraging all of this satellite data together greatly increases the capacity to monitor crops and crop yield. “This is an age of big data. How to make sense of all of the data available, to generate useful information for farmers, economists, and others who need to know the crop yield, is an important challenge,” Guan says. “This will be an important tool. And, although we started with the U.S. Corn Belt, this framework can be used to analyze cropland anywhere on the planet.”

Reference: NCSA

Zinc oxide in EU animal nutrition will be banned again

Again, the politicians in the European Union (EU) have decided to meddle with animal nutrition. Right or wrong, this is a reality we have to live with, and, in this case, the European Commissions behind events.What is all this about? Once more, zinc oxide. They have decided to ban it, entirely and completely — unless they change their mind again — but they give a five-year period for individual states to phase it out. I think this is done mostly for Spain and Denmark, countries that still rely on zinc oxide to control post-weaning pig diarrhea. As far as I know, everywhere else zinc oxide at pharmacological levels is an antiquated additive. At least, I have not used any since 2008! Today, we have two options that can replace traditional zinc oxide: First, novel forms of zinc that do the same job at very low levels. Second, a plethora of other additives that work in synergy with the novel zinc forms to control post-weaning piglet diarrhea quite effectively. In my opinion, zinc oxide needed to be controlled, not banned, but sometimes control is impossible. Nevertheless, the EU should focus on zinc levels in animal feeds in terms of zinc as a nutrient and not as a medicinal additive. Zinc (and copper) in soil accumulates at alarming levels, and we must do something about it. The first step would be to fund research to establish the requirements of zinc and copper under modern conditions using modern feeds and modern genetics. That would be money well spent, at least in my opinion.


Bühler builds first industrial-scale insect processing plant in Europe

Bühler Insect Technology will build its first industrial plant to process black solider flies for animal nutrition together with its partner Protix in the Netherlands. Bühler will deliver the technology, equipment, and process know how for the rearing and processing of the insects and the feedstock preparation. Start of operation is planned for the first half of 2018. Andreas Aepli, CEO of Bühler Insect Technology, says: “With this first industrial insect protein production plant we will make an important step towards a more sustainable global food and feed value chain”.Protein is an essential component of nutrition for both humans and animals. About 15% of the daily energy intake should be covered by protein, to build and repair the cells that sustain life. Agriculture produces roughly 525 million tonnes of plant protein a year, found in corn, rice, wheat, or soybeans. However, today’s protein production is not sustainable: Only 25% of proteins land as vegetable proteins on our plates, while 15% are wasted and 60% are used to produce animal protein. Furthermore, with the growing world population, protein production needs to double by 2050. Experts agree this cannot be achieved using traditional farming practices and resources, which is why alternative sources for protein such insects or algae are becoming increasingly important. Insects offer a sustainable alternative: Grown on organic residues, they can recover up to 70% of nutrients, thus recycling these underutilized streams back to the food value chain. Largest insect-processing plant on an industrial scale in Europe In January 2017, Bühler and Protix founded the joint venture Bühler Insect Technology to serve the insect processing industry. Building the first black soldier fly processing plant in Europe together is the next step in this cooperation and will serve as a modular and scalable blueprint for future projects. The plant will be situated in the Netherlands and will serve customers in the feed industry. With construction starting this year, the plant is expected to be operational in the first half of 2018. It will produce protein meal and lipids that are used in the animal nutrition sector to feed pigs, chicken, fish, and domestic animals. The black soldier fly larvae are fed carefully selected organic byproducts from local distilleries, food producers and vegetable collectors in the Netherlands, which further underlines the sustainability of the process.

Reference: buhlergroup

ADM Opens Soy Processing Capabilities at Oilseeds Plant in Spyck, Germany

Archer Daniels Midland Company (NYSE: ADM) has successfully crushed its first non-GMO soybeans at its facility in Spyck, northwestern Germany. Located close to the Dutch border, the site was previously only used to crush rape and sunflower seeds. The new switch capacity is part of ADM’s long-term strategy to expand its network of European soy processing plants, enabling it to better service its soybean meal customers and support local farmers in increasing the region’s soybean acreage.“The extended soybean crushing capacity in Spyck will help us meet customer demand as the European non-GMO soybean market continues to grow,” says Jon Turney, general manager, European soybean crush at ADM. “The additional flexibility that we now have also gives us the ability to quickly respond to changing market dynamics for rape, sunflower and soy in the future.” ADM also crushes non-GMO soybeans at its facility in Straubing, Germany. In the past year, it has been working with farmers and industry accreditation bodies to create further opportunities to grow and market soybeans across northwest Europe. “We are committed to growing the soybean industry in this region, and we are working hard to help farmers in France and along the Danube see the value of growing soybeans within their rotation,” said Rene van der Poel, commercial manager for Oilseeds in Germany at ADM. “It is a great achievement for the team in Spyck to execute this latest step in our growth strategy, both on time and on budget. Flexible crush capacities, scale and carefully managed production costs per unit all remain key to our ongoing success in the region over the long term,” said John Grossmann, president, European crush and origination.”

Reference: ADM company

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