Posts Tagged ‘Farming’

Attack of the drones?

Attack of the drones?

 

The word “drone” tends to conjure up images of planes that kill terrorists or of creepy surveillance tools.

But tiny drone airplanes made of foam may be more useful in rural environments, one researcher says. There, the fliers could revolutionize agriculture, reducing the need for pesticides and improving crop production.

Because drones can fly cheaply at a low altitude, they can get highly detailed images of cropland, said Chris Anderson, the CEO of 3D Robotics and former editor-in-chief of Wired, here on Saturday (May 18) at this year’s Maker Faire Bay Area, a two-day celebration of DIY science, technology and engineering. Drone-captured close-ups of fields could help farmers tailor their pesticide treatment and identify subtle differences in soil productivity. [Rise of the Drones: Photos of Unmanned Aircraft]

Vast unknown

The automation of farming has led to fewer farmers tending massive plots of land. That means they don’t know how each leaf looks, notice changes in the height of plants, or the color of soil

“Once upon a time farms were small and people could walk the farm,” Anderson said. Now, however, “farms are too big to measure and too big to manage.”

As a result, farmers may not know about the condition of vast stretches of their land and make many decisions as if plots of land were uniform. For instance, they may blanket their entire crop with fungicide in June because fungal infections typically strike in July, whether or not their crop is actually afflicted, Anderson said.

 

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Biodynamic Farming Methods.

Biodynamic Farming Methods.

 

Some of the Côte d’Or’s most illustrious producers are going down the biodynamic route. Are they eccentric or far-sighted?

 

At sunset, a Burgundy winegrower is spraying his vines. The moon is in the descendant and according to the biodynamic calendar, that’s the ideal time to apply the spray. Biodynamic farming is a practice tinged with esotericism, yet some of the region’s most prestigious wine estates have picked up on the trend.

The spray that Didier Montchavet is using on his small patch of vines located between Pommard and Beaune is made from water and cow manure fermented in a cow horn and buried under the soil over winter.

Known as 500, this is one of the most important preparations used by followers of biodynamic agriculture. Other additions include silica mixed with rainwater – also packed in a cow horn and buried in the soil – which is called by its function title, 501. And it’s not just cows’ horns that are used to mature many of the preparations; other body parts from animals, including skulls and stags’ bladders, are an integral part of the process.

Herbal teas – including 504, made from stinging nettles, and 508, produced from the common horsetail plant – are used to “dynamize” a vineyard’s compost. These preparations were first developed in the 1920s by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, and although they might seem a bit loopy to many observers, they have been embraced by winegrowers in France and Italy, and as far away as Chile and New Zealand

Steiner adherents also carry out their work according to the position of the stars and the constellations of the zodiac. “There are some very esoteric things in Steiner’s writings, like how to see the influence of Mars in a plant, which is something that I can’t do,” admits Montchovet.

Some biodynamic winemakers follow a calendar created by another pioneer of the movement, Maria Thun, who died earlier this year at the age of 89. She turned Steiner’s ideas on sowing, pruning and harvesting by lunar and cosmic rhythms into reality, producing an annual calendar for biodynamic farmers after years of research on her farm in Germany. 

Hardcore enthusiasts religiously follow… read on