These are the latest farming innovations

Jon Lawson

Plants can have production enhanced by improving the light. UbiQD and the Solvay Group are teaming up to investigate the use of next-generation luminescent greenhouse technology to convert under-used colours from the sun, such as blue and UV, to more photosynthetically active colours. 

UbiQD's UbiGro uses fluorescence to create a more optimal light spectrum. According to the manufacturer, the material can produce up to 20% larger yields. The partners hope to scale up the quantum dot additive process to the industrial levels needed for a wide scale adoption, while demonstrating the fluorescent layer stabilisation in various climates and greenhouse constructions. 

Hunter McDaniel, UbiQD Founder and CEO observed, “We are only just beginning to see what UbiGro can do for the greenhouse industry, and this exciting new partnership with Solvay will accelerate deployment of a full-cover solution. Solvay is the industry leader in greenhouse film additives, and they are widely recognised for their polymer innovation as well as supply chain reliability.”

Drones show promise in sugar trial

This season’s sugar cane crop at Seafield Farm in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, has been enhanced by the use of drones and a helicopter to spray on a chemical ripener to enhance the sucrose content in the plants, a process that occurs six to nine weeks before harvest. The results showed a small but significant increase in the sucrose. The drones were superior to the helicopter.

In the trial, different fields of the farm were selected, each of which were divided into two areas between 1 and 5 hectares, before being assigned to different ripener applications. The drone used was an XAG P20, which carried a custom spraying attachment and 12-litre smart liquid tank designed in a modular fashion. It followed a pre-set flight route, operated at a fixed height of 2 to 3 metres above the crops, and sprayed accurately into the target fields. Results show that the traditional manned helicopter was outperformed by XAG drone in both cane yield and quality of the harvested crops.

The areas ripened with drones had a 1% increase in recoverable value (RV), compared to those ripened with the helicopter. In South Africa, RV is the measure of the amount of sugar recovered from every ton of crop crushed in the mills. Under the RV Cane Payment System since 2000, the local farmers are remunerated for their harvested sugarcane based on the recoverable value. As the percentage generally falls between 9% to 14%, the more than 1% increase represents satisfactory progress. 

Drone operator and farmer Kim Hein said, “This means a lot to us. With higher sugar extracted from every ton of sugarcane, we get paid higher and my farms become more profitable. Drone, imagery, and smart agriculture systems can help us solve many environmental and labour problems.”

The key seems to be the precision of the application. Hein added, “We usually end up with a problem with the helicopter company which offers a minimum spray of 50 hectares a day, but we only want to do 2 to 3 hectares a week. This does not allow any flexibility in the ripening process which means the outcome might fail.” 

By using real-time kinematic (RTK) positioning and atomised nozzles, the drones can spray more precisely and evenly on target areas without affecting the neighbouring fields not yet ready for ripening. This help cut down the use of chemicals by 30% and water by 90%.

Cool cows in New York

Kelly Reynolds from Reyncrest Farm in Corfu, New York has been busy installing 250 fans - one for every 6 cows. The comfort of the animals has ramifications for milk production and quality, as Reynolds explained, “Monitoring the activity trackers worn by our cows and watching how much they are laying down, eating or their general demeanour helps us to decide where we might need to make an improvement in the barn or change a routine. It's all about keeping our cows cool and comfortable."

Shades have also been constructed. Reynolds added, “The activity monitors worn by each cow track panting, which is one way cows abate heat, so the more panting, the hotter the cow is. This really helped us pinpoint a few areas in the pen that were getting hotter at certain times of the day. I think it's pretty cool that we can respond to what the cow's activity is telling us. We installed shades in those areas and have seen a big improvement based on the amount of time they spend resting comfortably.”

• Read more about new technology in farming here.



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