Monday, October 24, 2016

AMERICAN WATER SUPPLY - Cleaning the Heartland

"Using sensors to spoon-feed crops with extreme precision" PBS NewsHour 10/19/2016


SUMMARY:  To profitably produce corn in on Midwestern farms, nitrogen must be added to the soil.  But the practice has an unwanted environmental impact:  water contamination.  A University of Nebraska professor thinks he may have a solution.  Special correspondent Ariana Brocious of Harvest Public Media in Nebraska reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  Now:  a look at trying to clean up the water supply in the country's heartland.

For decades, American farmers have been applying nitrogen fertilizer, in some cases too generously, to crops.  Much of that fertilizer has found its way into runoff, contaminating water supplies and forcing many communities to invest heavily in water treatment plants.

From NET in Nebraska, Ariana Brocious of Harvest Public Media reports on new technologies farmers are using to reduce contamination from their fields.

It's part of our series about the Leading Edge of science and tech.

ARIANA BROCIOUS, NET Nebraska:  When University of Nebraska professor Richard Ferguson looks at a cornfield, he has no illusions.

RICHARD FERGUSON, University of Nebraska – Lincoln:  To profitably produce corn in Nebraska, we have to apply nitrogen fertilizer.  In many cases, in the past, we applied more than we really needed.

ARIANA BROCIOUS:  Ferguson wants to reduce the chance that excess nitrogen will get into the groundwater.  His high-tech approach, called Project SENSE, uses sensor technology to help farmers fertilize during the growing season as timely and precisely as possible.

RICHARD FERGUSON:  If we can make them more money by the use of sensor technology, we think that's something they would adopt.

ARIANA BROCIOUS:  Project SENSE is being put to the test in areas where groundwater nitrate levels are high.  Today, it's at the Seim family farm in Central Nebraska.

The machine's arms have sensors that gauge how much nitrogen the plants need.  A computer fires applicators to deliver fertilizer, practically feeding plants one by one.

For Anthony Seim, SENSE is another tool for his family to try.

ANTHONY SEIM, Seim Ag Technology:  I don't think there's any farmer that wakes up in the morning and says, I'm just going to go dump 1,000 gallons of fertilizer down a ditch.  Everybody's trying.  It's just that it doesn't always work.  There's a lot of things that we can't control, weather being the biggest one.

No comments: