Saving Water, Fertilizer in Durum Wheat

Irrigation is a must for wheat producers in Arizona’s hot, dry climate, but most of the water comes from the Colorado River, and that supply is being depleted by the long-term drought.

Fertilizer is getting more expensive, and when too much fertilizer and water are applied, the excess amounts can percolate too deeply into the soil and contaminate the groundwater.

Maximizing yields with as little water and fertilizer as possible is a top priority for today’s Arizona wheat growers.

Optimal irrigation levels for wheat means hitting a sweet spot: Applying abundant water will increase yields, but overwatering wheat as the grain is filling in can reduce the protein content and potentially reduce the value of the crop.

Bronson and his colleagues grew durum wheat for 2 years using 5 fertilizer rates and 10 irrigation rates to compare yields and how efficiently the wheat used nitrogen. They focused on durum wheat, a $131 million crop in Arizona that is used in pastas and sold at premium prices. Durum wheat is also an important crop in several other southwestern states. Kevin Bronson, a soil scientist at the U.S. Arid Land Agricultural Research Center in Maricopa, Arizona, conducts research that can guide Arizona wheat producers on irrigation and fertilizer practices that maximize yield and grain quality. The advice is timely: advances in overhead sprinkler systems and other technologies are giving farmers more control over how much water they use.

The scientists used daily weather data to calculate a base irrigation rate. They irrigated two to four times a week with a mobile overhead sprinkler system. Plant samples were analyzed for nitrogen content to determine how efficiently the plants used nitrogen fertilizer. The scientists calculated optimal irrigation and fertilizer rates based on total yields. They also calculated an “economic rate” that factored in fertilizer costs and market prices for durum wheat.

The researchers found that the more water and fertilizer they applied, the higher the yields. Going beyond optimum water and fertilizer rates produced taller wheat plants that tended to lodge, or fall over, which cut into yields.

For maximum yield, the optimal fertilizer rate was 225 pounds of nitrogen per acre. But they also found that when they factored in fertilizer costs, more isn’t always better. The economic rate, with the fertilizer cost included, was about 175 pounds of nitrogen per acre.

The optimal irrigation level was about 20 inches of water throughout the growing season. Going beyond that causes some of the water and nitrogen to percolate too deeply into the soil.

The results also showed that an impressive 70-90 percent of the applied nitrogen was used by the crop irrigated with overhead sprinklers. That compares to nitrogen use rates of 50 percent or less seen in many row crops irrigated with surface flooding, Bronson says.

Growers in Arizona are gradually shifting away from surface flooding and adopting the type of overhead sprinklers used in the study. Bronson hopes that the results, published in the March 2016 issue of Field Crops Research, will encourage more growers to start using overhead sprinkler systems.

“Overhead sprinklers are more precise, ensure that less water is wasted, and can save on fertilizer, because a carefully watered crop is more efficient at using the nitrogen fed to it,” he explains.

(Source – https://www.no-tillfarmer.com/articles/6443-saving-water-fertilizer-in-durum-wheat#sthash.10zhEOfl.dpuf)

 

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Legumes&Nitrogen Fixation

One of the most significant contributions that legume cover crops make to the soil is the nitrogen (N) they contain. Legume cover crops fix atmospheric N in their plant tissues in a symbiotic or mutually beneficial relationship with rhizobium bacteria. In association with legume roots, the bacteria convert atmospheric N into a form that plants can use. As cover crop biomass decomposes, these nutrients are released for use by cash crops. Farmers should make an effort to understand this complex process because it will help them to select the proper legumes for their cropping plan, calculate when to incorporate cover crops and plant cash crops that follow, and plan fertilizer rates and schedules for those cash crops. Above all, they need to inoculate legume seed before planting with the appropriate Rhizobium species.

The N associated with cover crop biomass undergoes many processes before it is ready to be taken up for use by cash crops. The process begins with biomass N, which is the nitrogen contained in mature cover crops. From 75 to 90 percent of the nitrogen content in legume cover crops is contained in the above ground portions of the plant, with the remaining N in its roots and nodules (Shipley et al., 1992).

When legume or grass cover crops are killed and incorporated into the soil, living microorganisms in the soil go to work to decompose plant residues. The biomass nitrogen is mineralized and converted first to ammonium (NH4) and then to nitrate compounds (NO3) that plant roots can take up and use. The rate of this mineralization process depends largely on the chemical composition of the plant residues that are involved (Clement et al., 1995), and on climatic conditions.

Determining the ratio of carbon to nitrogen (C:N) in the cover crop biomass is the most common way to estimate how quickly biomass N will be mineralized and released for use by cash crops. As a general rule, cover crop residues with C:N ratios lower than 25:1 will release N quickly. In the southeastern U. S., legume cover crops, such as hairy vetch and crimson clover, killed immediately before corn planting generally have C:N ratios of 10:1 to 20:1 (Ranells and Wagger, 1997). Residues with C:N ratios greater than 25:1, such as cereal rye and wheat, decompose more slowly and their N is more slowly released.

A study conducted in 1989 reported that 75 to 80 percent of the biomass N produced by hairy vetch and crimson clover residues was released eight weeks after the cover crops were incorporated into the soil (Wagger, 1989a). This amounted to 71 to 85 pounds of N per acre. However, not all of the released N was taken up by the subsequent corn crop. The corn utilized approximately 50 percent of the N released by both residues. (This value may be con-sidered the N uptake efficiency of corn from legume residues. This value is similar to the N uptake efficiency of corn from inorganic fertilizer sources, such as ammonium nitrate.) The N not taken up by the following crops may still contribute to soil health. Living microbes in the soil may use the nitrogen to support population growth and microbial activity in the soil.

(Source – http://www.cefs.ncsu.edu/resources/organicproductionguide/covercropsfinaljan2009.pdf)

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Cover crops: Buckweat (Fagopyrum esculentum)

Type: summer or cool-season annual broadleaf grain

Roles: quick soil cover, weed suppressor, nectar for pollinators and beneficial insects, topsoil loosener, rejuvenator for low-fertility soils

Buckwheat is the speedy short-season cover crop. It establishes, blooms and reaches maturity in just 70 to 90 days and its residue breaks down quickly. Buckwheat suppresses weeds and attracts beneficial insects and pollinators with its abundant blossoms. It is easy to kill, and reportedly extracts soil phosphorus from soil better than most grain-type cover crops.

Buckwheat thrives in cool, moist conditions but it is not frost tolerant. Even in the South, it is not grown as a winter annual. Buckwheat is not particularly drought tolerant, and readily wilts under hot, dry conditions. Its short growing season may allow it to avoid droughts, however.

BENEFITS

Quick cover. Few cover crops establish as rapidly and as easily as buckwheat. Its rounded pyramid- shaped seeds germinate in just three to five days. Leaves up to 3 inches wide can develop within two weeks to create a relatively dense, soil shading canopy. Buckwheat typically produces only 2 to 3 tons of dry matter per acre, but it does so quickly—in just six to eight weeks. Buckwheat residue also decomposes quickly, releasing nutrients to the next crop.

Weed suppressor. Buckwheat’s strong weed suppressing ability makes it ideal for smothering warm-season annual weeds. It’s also planted after intensive, weed-weakening tillage to crowd out perennials. A mix of tillage and successive dense seedings of buckwheat can effectively suppress Canada thistle, sowthistle, creeping jenny, leafy spurge, Russian knapweed and perennial peppergrass. While living buckwheat may have an allelopathic weed-suppressing effect, its primary impact on weeds is through shading and competition.

Phosphorus scavenger. Buckwheat takes up phosphorus and some minor nutrients (possibly including calcium) that are otherwise unavailable to crops, then releasing these nutrients to later crops as the residue breaks down. The roots of the plants produce mild acids that release nutrients from the soil. These acids also activate slow-releasing organic fertilizers, such as rock phosphate. Buckwheat’s dense, fibrous roots cluster in the top 10 inches of soil, providing an extensive root surface area for nutrient uptake.

Thrives in poor soils. Buckwheat performs better than cereal grains on low-fertility soils and soils with high levels of decaying organic matter. That’s why it was often the first crop planted on cleared land during the settlement of woodland areas and is still a good first crop for rejuvenating over-farmed soils. However, buckwheat does not do well in compacted, droughty or excessively wet soils.

Quick regrowth. Buckwheat will regrow after mowing if cut before it reaches 25 percent bloom. It also can be lightly tilled after the midpoint of its long flowering period to reseed a second crop. Some growers bring new land into production by raising three successive buckwheat crops this way.

Soil conditioner. Buckwheat’s abundant, fine roots leave topsoil loose and friable after only minimal tillage, making it a great mid-summer soil conditioner preceding fall crops in temperate areas.

Nectar source. Buckwheat’s shallow white blossoms attract beneficial insects that attack or parasitize aphids, mites and other pests. These beneficials include hover flies (Syrphidae), predatory wasps, minute pirate bugs, insidious flower bugs, tachinid flies and lady beetles. Flowering may start within three weeks of planting and continue for up to 10 weeks.

Nurse crop. Due to its quick, aggressive start, buckwheat is rarely used as a nurse crop, although it can be used anytime you want quick cover. It is sometimes used to protect late-fall plantings of slow-starting, winter-hardy legumes wherever freezing temperatures are sure to kill the buckwheat.

MANAGEMENT

Buckwheat prefers light to medium, well-drained soils—sandy loams, loams, and silt loams. It performs poorly on heavy, wet soils or soils with high levels of limestone. Buckwheat grows best in cool, moist conditions, but is not frost-tolerant. It is also not drought tolerant. Extreme afternoon heat will cause wilting, but plants bounce back overnight.

Establishment
Plant buckwheat after all danger of frost. In untilled, minimally tilled or clean-tilled soils, drill 50 to 60 lb./A at 1/2 to 11/2 inches deep in 6 to 8 inch rows. Use heavier rates for quicker canopy development. For a fast smother crop, broadcast up to 96 lb./A (2 bu./A) onto a firm seedbed and incorporate with a harrow, tine weeder, disk or field cultivator. Overall vigor is usually better in drilled seedings. As a nurse-crop for slow growing, winter annual legumes planted in late summer or fall, seed at one-quarter to one-third of the normal rate.

Buckwheat compensates for lower seeding rates by developing more branches per plant and more seeds per blossom. However, skimping too much on seed makes stands more vulnerable to early weed competition until the canopy fills in. Using cleaned, bin-run or even birdseed-grade seed can lower establishment costs, but increases the risk of weeds. As denser stands mature, stalks become spindly and are more likely to lodge from wind or heavy rain.

Rotations
Buckwheat is used most commonly as a mid-summer cover crop to suppress weeds and replace bare fallow. In the Northeast and Midwest, it is often planted after harvest of early vegetable crops, then followed by a fall vegetable, winter grain, or cool-season cover crop. Planted later, winterkilled residue provides decent soil cover and is easy to no-till into. In many areas, it can be planted following harvest of winter wheat or canola.

In parts of California, buckwheat grows and flowers between the killing of winter annual legume cover crops in spring and their re-establishment in fall. Some California vineyard managers seed 3-foot strips of buckwheat in row middles, alternating it and another summer cover crop, such as sorghum-sudangrass.

Buckwheat is sensitive to herbicide residues from previous crops, especially in no-till seedbeds. Residue from trifluralin and from triazine and sulfonylurea herbicides have damaged or killed buckwheat seedlings. When in doubt, sow and water a small test plot of the fast germinating seed to detect stunting or mortality.

Pest Management
Few pests or diseases bother buckwheat. Its most serious weed competitors are often small grains from preceding crops, which only add to the cover crop biomass. Other grass weeds can be a problem, especially in thin stands. Weeds also can increase after seed set and leaf drop. Diseases include a leaf spot caused by the fungus Ramularia and Rhizoctonia root rot.

Other Options
Plant buckwheat as an emergency cover crop to protect soil and suppress weeds when your main crop fails or cannot be planted in time due to unfavorable conditions.

To assure its role as habitat for beneficial insects, allow buckwheat to flower for at least 20 days—the time needed for minute pirate bugs to produce another generation.

Buckwheat can be double cropped for grain after harvesting early crops if planted by mid-July in northern states or by early August in the South. It requires a two-month period of relatively cool, moist conditions to prevent blasting of the blossoms. There is modest demand for organic and specially raised food-grade buckwheat in domestic and overseas markets. Exporters usually specify variety, so investigate before planting buckwheat for grain.

Management Cautions
Buckwheat can become a weed. Kill within 7 to 10 days after flowering begins, before the first seeds begin to harden and turn brown. Earliest maturing seed can shatter before plants finish blooming. Some seed may overwinter in milder regions.

Buckwheat can harbor insect pests including Lygus bugs, tarnished plant bugs and Pratylynchus penetrans root lesion nematodes.

COMPARATIVE NOTES

 Buckwheat has only about half the root mass as a percent of total biomass as small grains. Its succulent stems break down quickly, leaving soils loose and vulnerable to erosion, particularly after tillage. Plant a soil-holding crop as soon as possible.
 Buckwheat is nearly three times as effective as barley in extracting phosphorus, and more than 10 times more effective than rye—the poorest P scavenger of the cereal grains.
 As a cash crop, buckwheat uses only half as much soil moisture as soybeans.

(Source – http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Managing-Cover-Crops-Profitably-3rd-Edition/Text-Version/Nonlegume-Cover-Crops/Buckwheat)

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THE PROTECTIVE EFFECT OF HUMATES

 The increase in ionized radiation and pollution of our environment with herbicides, pesticides, heavy metal compounds, and other toxic mutagenic and carcinogenic substances presents a real danger to living organisms today and their progeny in the future.  Considering the soil pollution by water soluble heavy metal salts in the industrial regions and the long-term excessive use of mineral fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides in agricultural regions, the crops, particularly vegetables and root-crops, accumulate excess amounts of harmful admixtures.  That is why the creation of pure agricultural technologies is one of the most important tasks of our time.

The protective effect of humates develop in the following directions:

  1. Protection from radioactive irradiation and its consequences.

  2. Protection from harmful admixtures in the atmosphere, soil, and subsoil waters in technogenic districts.

  3. Protection from the consequences of the pesticides and other chemicals used in agriculture.

  4. Protection from unfavorable environmental factors in zones of risky agriculture.

  5. Decrease in content of the nitrates that form when nitrogen fertilizer is used.

     Long-term research showed that humic substances bond many organic and non-organic substances into poorly soluble or insoluble compounds, which prevents their penetration from soil into subsoil waters and growing plants.  It reduces the toxic effect of residual amounts of herbicides, soil polluting radio nuclides, heavy metals, and other harmful substances, as well as radiation and chemical contamination.  Tests showed that even after 50% affection of the plant, its vital functions are completely restored due to the humic preparation effect.  This unique quality of humates is particularly important for the regions in Russia, Byelorussia, and Ukraine that are contiguous to the Chernobyl region.   In the future it could be used to gradually restore contaminated land.

     Modern floriculture is not possible without the use of different chemicals necessary to fight weed, pest, and plant disease.  It is widely known, however, that the use of those chemicals causes a number of negative effects due to their accumulation in the soil.  The infamous fact of DDT accumulation led to its complete banning.  However, DDT appearance still occasionally occurs in crops.  Science proved that sodium humate reduces the damaging effect of the pesticide atrazine by increasing its decomposition, which leads to an increase in the crop capacity of barley.

     The use of humates in zones of risky agriculture is particularly important.  Unfortunately, most territories of Russia can be considered risky.  In the south, the humates help to fight the effect of droughts, since it has been established that the humate treatment of plants ensures their drought resistance.  In Siberia and in the north of Russia, humate treatment can save the plants from late frosts.  In the 1960s, a corn crop was saved by colleagues of Irkutsk university, after an unexpected frost.  In 1996, in the Angarsk region, a strong frost happened on the 19th of June.  The parts of the potato fields that had been treated with the humates were the only undamaged parts.

     Watering soil with a 0.01% humate solution substantially increases the biological activity of the soil and boosts plants resistance against the harmful waste in technogenic zones of chemical and coking industries.  In 1998, in Buryatia, wide scale tests were carried out in treating of saline soils with humates.  The results showed a 214% increase in crops of green herbage, in comparison with the control group.

     The ability of humates to create complexes and their high sorption activity are used to bond the ions of heavy metals in contaminated soil.  That is why increased amount of humates (up to 20-30 kg per hectare) should be used on contaminated soil to ensure the contact and create favorable conditions for forming of complexes.

Humates accelerate water-exchange processes and physiological processes in the cell and participate in oxidation processes at the cell level.  They are conducive to complete assimilation of mineral nutrients in the plant, particularly in abnormal cases, such as saline soils, drought, and other unfavorable environmental factors. 

     An important quality of humates is their ability to decrease the level of nitrate nitrogen in produce.  It was proven by tests on a variety of crops (oats, corn, potatoes, root-crops, lettuce, cucumbers) that humate use decreases the nitrate content by 50% on average.  At the Dnepropetrovsk agricultural institute, field tests were carried out on chernozem soils.  Two crop cultures were tested – corn and barley (as second in the crop rotation).  The herbicide atrazine (4 kg per hectare) was used on the corn.  The results showed that atrazine reduced the growth of weeds by 80% and increased the crop capacity of the corn by 19%-20%.  However, the residual amounts of  the herbicide reduced the crop capacity in barley, which was sown after the corn in crop rotation, by 16%.  The use of sodium humate considerably changed the situation.  It stimulated corn growth and increased the crop capacity by an additional 10%, while the nitrates content (NO3) in the corn of honey and pearl ripeness decreased from 280.1 mg/kg to 199.7 mg/kg in laboratory tests and to 707 mg/kg in field tests.  Barley grown after the corn was noted to improve its germination, growth, and mass gaining, while containing less atrazine and more chlorophyll in the leaves.  The crop capacity of the barley increased by 5.2 centner per hectare, with a total crop capacity reaching 30.9 centner per hectare.  It was also noted that the atrazine content in the final produce decreased by 52%-71%, which made it an ecologically pure produce.

Thus, humic preparations are the reliable protection for plants and crops against harmful admixtures from our environment (soil, subsoil waters, rain-water, and the atmosphere), which is more polluted each day.  They also protect crops from unfavorable environmental factors (drought, ionizing radiation, etc.).

(Source – http://www.teravita.com/Humates/Chapter5.htm)

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The future of precision agriculture

Using predictive weather analytics to feed future generations

By 2050, it’s expected that the world’s population will reach 9.2 billion people, 34 percent higher than today. Much of this growth will happen in developing countries like Brazil, which has the largest area in the world with arable land for agriculture. To keep up with rising populations and income growth, global food production must increase by 70 percent in order to be able to feed the world.

For IBM researcher and Distinguished Engineer Ulisses Mello and a team of scientists from IBM Research – Brazil, the answer to that daunting challenge lies in real time data gathering and analysis. They are researching how “precision agriculture” techniques and technologies can maximize food production, minimize environmental impact and reduce cost.

“We have the opportunity to make a difference using science and technological innovation to address critical issues that will have profound effect on the lives of billions of people,” said Ulisses.

Optimizing planting, harvesting and distribution

In order to grow crops optimally farmers need to understand how to cultivate those crops in a particular area, taking into account a seed’s resistance to weather and local diseases, and considering the environmental impact of planting that seed. For example, when planting in a field near a river, it’s best to use a seed that requires less fertilizer to help reduce pollution.

Once the seeds have been planted, the decisions made around fertilizing and maintaining the crops are time-sensitive and heavily influenced by the weather. If farmers know they’ll have heavy rain the next day, they may decide not to put down fertilizer since it would get washed away. Knowing whether it’s going to rain or not can also influence when to irrigate fields. With 70 percent of fresh water worldwide used for agriculture, being able to better manage how it’s used will have a huge impact on the world’s fresh water supply.

Weather not only affects how crops grow, but also logistics around harvesting and transportation. When harvesting sugar cane, for example, the soil needs to be dry enough to support the weight of the harvesting equipment. If it’s humid and the soil is wet, the equipment can destroy the crop. By understanding what the weather will be over several days and what fields will be affected, better decisions can be made in advance about which fields workers should be deployed to.

Once the food has been harvested the logistics of harvesting and transporting food to the distribution centers is crucial. A lot of food waste happens during distribution, so it’s important to transport the food at the right temperature and not hold it for longer than needed. Even the weather can affect this; in Brazil, many of the roads are dirt, and heavy rain can cause trucks to get stuck in mud. By knowing where it will rain and which routes may be affected, companies can make better decisions on which routes will be the fastest to transport their food.

The future of precision agriculture

Currently, precision agriculture technologies are used by larger companies as it requires a robust IT infrastructure and resources to do the monitoring. However, Ulisses envisions a day when smaller farms and co-ops could use mobile devices and crowd sourcing to optimize their own agriculture.

“A farmer could take a picture of a crop with his phone and upload it to a database where an expert could assess the maturity of the crop based on its coloring and other properties. People could provide their own reading on temperature and humidity and be a substitute for sensor data if none is available,” he said.

With growing demands on the world’s food supply chain, it’s crucial to maximize agriculture resources in a sustainable manner. With expertise in high performance supercomputing, computational sciences, and analytics and optimization, IBM Research is uniquely able to understand the complexities of agriculture and develop the right weather forecasts, models and simulations that enable farmers and companies to make the right decisions.

(Source – http://www.research.ibm.com/articles/precision_agriculture.shtml)

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Cover and Green Manure Crop Benefits to Soil Quality

Soil Quality and Resource Management

Soil is one of the five resources—soil, water, air, plants, and animals—that NRCS deals with in resource planning. Soil is intimately related to the other four resources, and its condition can either negatively or positively impact the other resources. For example, if the soil surface is functioning adequately, the soil will allow water to infiltrate, thus reducing the potential for erosion and increasing the amount of water stored for plant use. This function of soil affects water quality, plant growth, and the health of animals. In addition, protection of the surface layer resists wind erosion, thus protecting the air resource. Soil Quality is a critical factor in the management of natural resources, and the protection or enhancement of soil quality is the key component of all resource management assistance activities in the NRCS.

What is Soil Quality?

Soil quality is the capacity of a specific kind of soil to function within natural or managed ecosystem boundaries to:

* sustain plant and animal productivity

* maintain or enhance water and  air quality

* support human health and habitation.

As defined, the terms soil quality, soil health, and soil condition are interchangeable.

Effects of Conservation Practices

One of the goals of conservation planning is to consider the effects of conservation practices and systems on soil quality. This is the first technical note in a series on how conservation practices affect soil quality. This technical note is designed to compliment local or regional information on the specific nature of cover crops. Cover and Green Manure Crop Benefits to Soil Quality

1. EROSION – Cover crops increase vegetative and residue cover during periods when erosion energy is high, especially when main crops do not furnish adequate cover. Innovative planting methods such as aerial seeding, interseeding with cyclone seeder, or other equipment may be needed, when main crop harvest, delays conventional planting of cover crops during recommended planting dates.

2. DEPOSITION OF SEDIMENT – Increase of cover reduces upland erosion, which in turn reduces sediment from floodwaters and wind.

3. COMPACTION – Increased biomass, when decomposed, increases organic matter promoting increased microbial activity and aggregation of soil particles. This increases soil porosity and reduces bulk density. Caution: plant cover crops when soils are not wet, or use other methods such as aerial seeding.

4. SOIL AGGREGATION AT THE SURFACE – Aggregate stability will increase with the addition of and the decomposition of organic material by microorganisms.

5. INFILTRATION – Surface cover reduces erosion and run-off. Cover crop root channels and animal activities, such as earthworms, form macropores that increase aggregate stability and improve infiltration. Caution: Macropores can result in an increase in leaching of highly soluble pesticides if a heavy rain occurs immediately after application. However, if only sufficient rainfall occurs to move the pesticide into the surface soil after application, the risks for preferential flow are minimal. Cover crops, especially small grains, utilize excess nitrogen.

6. SOIL CRUSTING – Cover crops will provide cover prior to planting the main crop. If conservation tillage is used, benefits will continue after planting of main crop. Increases of organic matter, improved infiltration, and increased aggregate stability reduce soil crusting.

7. NUTRIENT LOSS OR IMBALANCE – Decomposition of increased biomass provides a slow release of nutrients to the root zone. Legume cover crops fix atmospheric nitrogen and provide nitrogen for the main crop. Legumes utilize a higher amount of phosphorus than grass or small grains. This is useful in animal waste utilization and management. Small grains are useful as catch crops to utilize excess nitrogen, which reduces the potential for nitrogen leaching. Caution: To prevent nutrient tie ups, cover crops should be killed 2-3 weeks prior to planting main crop. Tillage tools are used to kill and bury cover crops in conventional tillage systems. However, with conservation tillage systems, cover crops are killed with chemicals and left on or partially incorporated in the soil.

Caution: Research has shown that incorporation of legume cover crops results in more rapid mineralization. However, due to delay in availability of nitrogen from legume cover crop in conservation tillage, a starter fertilizer should be applied at planting. (Reeves, 1994). An ARS study done in Morris, Minnesota reported dramatically higher carbon losses through C02 remissions under moldboard plow plots as compared to no-till. It was reported that carbon was lost as C02 in 19 days following moldboard plowing of wheat stubble that was equal to the total amount of carbon synthesized into crop residues and roots during the growing season. Long-term studies indicate that up to 2 percent of the residual organic matter in soils are oxidized per year by moldboard plowing” (Schertz and Kemper, 1994).

8. PESTICIDE CARRYOVER – Cover crops reduce run-off resulting in reduced nutrient and pesticide losses from surface runoff and erosion. Increased organic matter improves the environment for soil biological activity that will increase the breakdown of pesticides.

9. ORGANIC MATTER – Decomposition of increased biomass results in more organic matter. Research shows cover crops killed 2-3 weeks prior to planting main crop, results in adequate biomass and reduces the risk of crop losses from soil moisture depletion and tie up of nutrients.

10. BIOLOGICAL ACTIVITY – Cover and green manure crops increase the available food supply for microorganisms resulting in increased biological activity.

11.WEEDS AND PATHOGENS – Increased cover will reduce weeds. Caution: Research has shown reductions in yield are possible in conservation tillage cotton systems following winter cover crops. Reductions are attributed to interference from residue (poor seed/soil contact), cool soil temperatures at planting, increased soil borne pathogens, and increased insects and other pests. Harmful effects from the release of chemical compounds of one plant to another plant (allelopathic) are possible with crops like cotton, but losses can be reduced by killing the cover crop 2-3 weeks prior to planting main crop, and achieving good seed/soil contact with proper seed placement. Cover crops have shown some allelopathic effects on weeds reducing weed populations in conservation tillage (Reeves, 1994).

12. EXCESSIVE WETNESS – Cover and green manure crops may remove excess moisture from wet soils, resulting in reduction of “waterlogging” in poorly drained soils. Caution: transpiration of water can be a detriment in dry climates. Planners should adjust the kill date of cover crops to manage soil water.

 Summary

Cover and Green Manure Crops as a conservation practice can improve soil health. Soil quality benefits such as increased organic matter, biological activity, aggregate stability, infiltration, and nutrient cycling accrue much faster under no-till than other tillage practices that partially incorporate the residue.

One example comes from the Jim Kinsella farming operation near Lexington, Illinois. He reports that organic matter levels have increased from 1.9 percent 6.2 percent after 19 years of continuous no-till (Schertz and Kemper, 1994). Future technical notes will deal with other conservation practice effects on soil quality. The goal of the Soil Quality Institute is to provide this information to field offices to enable them to assist landusers in making wise decisions when managing their natural resources.

(Sources – http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/management/files/sq_atn_1.pdf)

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Open System for Organic Agriculture Administration

Efforts to increase the availability of sustainable development in natural resources worldwide are  consecutive and proliferated through the last decades. Sectors and divisions of many scientific  networks are working simultaneously in separate schemas or in joined multitudinous projects and  international co-operations. Organic Agriculture, as a later evolution of farming systems, was  derived from trying to overcome the accumulative environmental and socioeconomic problems of  industrialized communities and shows rapid development during the last decades. Its products  day to day gain increased part of consumer preferences while product prices are rather higher  than those of the traditional agriculture. Governments all over the world try to reduce the  environmental effects of the industrialized agriculture, overproduction and environmental  pollution, encouraging those who want to place their fields among others that follow the rules  of organic agriculture. All the above make this new trend very attractive and promising.

But the rules in organic agriculture are very restrictive. The intensive pattern of cultivation  worldwide and the abuse of chemical inputs, affected the environment, therefore any field  expected to be cultivated under the rules of organic agriculture has to follow certain steps but  also be ‘protected’ from the surrounding plots controlling at the same time different kind of unexpected influx (e.g., air contamination from nearby insecticides’ use, water pollution of  irrigation system from an adjacent plot that has used fertilizers, etc). It is obvious that the gap  between wish and theory and the implementation of organic agriculture is enormous.

Obviously one can overcome this gap using a sophisticated complex system. Such a system  can be based on a powerful GIS and the use of widely approved mobile instruments for  precise positioning and wireless communication. In such a system data-flow could be an  “easy” aspect, providing any information needed for the verification of organic product cycle  at any time, any site. 

 INTRODUCTION

As the world’s population has increased from 1.6 billion at the beginning of the 20th century  to over 6.2 billion just before the year 2004, economic growth, industrialization and the demand for agricultural products caused a sequence of unfortunate results. This aggregation of disturbances moved along with the reduction in availability and deterioration of maximum yield results from finite ranges of plots on earth’s surface. Overuse of agrochemical products (insecticides, pesticides, fertilizers, etc.), reduction and destruction of natural resources, decrease of biodiversity, reduction of water quality, threat over rare natural landscapes and wild species and an overall environmental degradation, appeared almost daily in news worldwide especially over the last two decades. The universal widespread of this situation has raised worldwide awareness of the need for an environmentally sustainable economic development. (WCED, 1987) In the beginning of year 2004, EU Commission for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries declared three major issues towards a European Action Plan on organic food and farming that may be crucial for the future of organic agriculture:

− the market, (promotion and distribution)

− the role of public support and,

− the standards of organic farming.

It is obvious that in general the market has a positive reaction if there is a prospect of considerable gain. Thus we can say that the other two will define the future. The strict rules of organic agriculture have to be ensured and all the products have to be easily recognisable.Also a guarantee about the quality and the origin of any product has to be established.

Organic Farming is derived as a sophisticated sector of the evolution of farming implementation techniques aiming through restrictions and cultivated strategies to achieve a balanced production process with maximum socioeconomic results (better product prices, availability of surrounding activities as ecotourism, family employment in low populated villages, acknowledge of natures’ and rural environments’ principles and needs, etc.). Meanwhile, the combination of latest technological advances, skills, innovations and the decline of computer and associate software expenses were transforming the market place of geographic data. Now, more than ever before, common people, farmers, private enterprises, local authorities, students, researchers, experts from different scientific fields, and a lot more could become an important asset supporting the development of innovations of Informatics in Geospatial Analysis. With the use of Geographic Information Systems and Internet applications various data can be examined visually on maps and analyzed through geospatial tools and applications of the software packages. Much recent attention and efforts has been focused on developing GIS functionality in the Worldwide Web and governmental or private intranets. The new applicable framework, called WebGIS, is surrounded with a lot of challenges and is developed rapidly changing from day to day the view of contemporary GIS workstations.

Precision Organic Agriculture through GIS fulfils the demands of design strategies and managerial activities in a continuing process. By implementing this combination, certified methods for defining the best policies, monitoring the results and the sustainability of the framework, and generating a constructive dialogue for future improvement on environmental improvement and development could be developed.

BASICS OF ORGANIC AGRICULTURE

Organic Agriculture is derived from other organized smaller natural frameworks, publicly known as ecosystems which are complex, self-adaptive units that evolve through time and natural mechanisms and change in concern with external biogeochemical and natural forces.

Managing ecosystems should have been focused on multiplication of the contemporary needs and future perspectives to ameliorate sustainable development. Instead, political, economic and social agendas and directives, as well as scientific objectives resulted in few decades such an enormous amount of global environmental problems like never before in the history of mankind. Valuable time was spent over the past 75 years by research, which was trying to search how ecosystems regulate themselves, for example how they adjust to atmospheric, geologic, human activities and abuse (Morain, 1999).

Organic Agriculture flourished over the last decade particularly after 1993 where the first act of Regulation 2092/91 of European Union was enforced. Until then, and unfortunately, afterwards, worldwide environmental disasters ( e.g., the Chernobyl accident of the nuclear reactor in April 1986), accumulative environmental pollution and its results (acid rain, ozone’s hole over the Poles, Greenhouse effect, etc.) and even lately the problems that occurred by the use of dioxins and the propagation of the disease of “mad cows”, increase in public opinion the relation between natures’ disturbances and the continuing abuse of intensive methods of several industrialized chains of productions. Among them, conventional agricultural intensive production with the need of heavy machinery, enormous needs of energy consumptions and even larger thirst for agrochemical influxes the last fifty years, created environmental disturbances for the future generations. Therefore, IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) constituted a number of principles that, enabling the implementation of Organic Farming’s cultivation methods, techniques and restrictions worldwide.

Principles of Organic Agriculture Organic Agriculture:  (Source: IFOAM)

  •  aims on best soil fertility based in natural processes,
  •  uses biological methods against insects, diseases, weeds,
  • practices crop rotation and co-cultivation of plants
  • uses “closed circle” methods of production where the residues from former cultivations or other recyclable influx from other sources are not thrown away, but they are incorporated, through recycling procedures, back in the cultivation (use of manure, leaves, compost mixtures, etc.),
  • avoids heavy machinery because of soil’s damages and destruction of useful soil’s microorganisms,
  • avoids using chemicals,  avoids using supplemental and biochemical substances in animal nourishing,
  •  needs 3-5 years to transit a conventional cultivated field to a organic farming system following the restrictions of Council Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91,
  • underlies in inspections from authorities approved by the national authorities of Agriculture.

An appropriate organic plot should be considered as the landscape where ecological perspectives and conservations activities should be necessary for effective sustainable nature resource management (Hobs, 1997). Considerable amounts of time and effort has been lost from oncoming organic farmers on finding the best locations for their plots. Spatial restrictions for placing an organic farm require further elaboration of variables that are affecting cultivation or even a unique plant, such as:

− Ground-climatic variables (e.g., ground texture, ph, slope, land fertility, history of former yields, existence of organic matter, rain frequency, water supply, air temperature levels, leachability, etc.),

− Adjacency with other vegetative species (plants, trees, forests) for propagation reasons or non-organic cultivations for better controlling movements through air streams or erosion streams (superficial or in the ground) of agrochemical wastes,

− Availability of organic fertilization source from neighbored agricultural exploitations,

− Quality of accessing road network for agricultural (better monitoring) and marketing (aggregated perspectives of product distribution to nearby or broadened market area) reasons.

A GIS is consisted of computerized tools and applications that are used to organize and display geo-information. Additionally it enables spatial and non-spatial analysis and correlation of geo-objects for alternative management elaborations and decision making procedures. This gives the ability to GIS users or organic farm-managers to conceive and implement alternative strategies in agricultural production and cultivation methodology.

GIS CONCEPTS FOR PRECISION ORGANIC FARMING

The development of first concepts and ideas of a precision organic farming system in a microregion, demands a regional landscape qualitative and recovery master plan with thorough and comprehensive description of the territory (land-use, emission sources, land cover, microclimatic factors, market needs and other essential variables. Essential components on a successful and prospective organic GIS-based system should be:

− The time-schedule and task specification of the problems and needs assessments that the design-strategy is intended to solve and manage,

− Integrated monitoring of high risks for the cultivation (insects, diseases, water quality, water supply, weather disturbances (wind, temperature, rain, snow, etc.),

− Supply of organic fertilization because additional needs from plants in certain periods of cultivation could be not managed with fast implemented agrochemicals; instead they need natural fermentations and weather conditions to break down elements of additional fertilization,

− High level of communication capabilities with authorized organizations for better management of the cultivation and geodata manipulation, aiming on better promotional and economical results,

− Increased awareness of the sustainability of the surrounding environment (flora and fauna), enabling motivation for a healthy coexistence. For example, the conservation of nearby natural resources such as rare trees, small bushes and small streams, give nest places and water supply capabilities to birds and animals that help organic plants to deal with insect populations controls and monitoring of other plant enemies,

− Continual data capture about land variables, use of satellite images, georeference  sampling proccedures and spatial modelling of existed or former geospatial historical plot’s data could be used to establish a rational model which will enable experts and organic farmers to transform the data into supportive decision applications.

The combination and modeling of all necessary variables through any kind of methodological approach, could be achieved through GIS expressing the geographical sectors of land parcels either as a pattern of vector data, or as a pattern of raster data (Kalabokidis et al., 2000). Additionally, we could allocate the cultivation or the combination of cultivations1 and their units (plants, trees, etc.) so as to be confronted in relation with their location inside the field, as well as with the neighbored landscape. For this purpose the most essential tool would be a GPS (Global Positioning System) device with high standards of accuracy. Several statistical approaches and extensions have been developed for the elaboration of spatial variables through geostatistical analysis. The usefulness of these thematic maps lies upon the tracing and localization of spatial variability in the plot during the cultivated period, enabling the farmer to implement the proper interferences for better management and future orientation of the farm and of the surrounding area.

Specific geodata receivers and sensors inside the plot, in the neighbored area, as well as images from satellites, could establish a “temporal umbrella” of data sources of our farm which would submit in tracing of temporal variability factors in our field. The agricultural management framework that takes into account the spatial or temporal variability of different parameters in the farm is called Precision Agriculture (Karydas, et al., 2002). The implementation of IFOAM’s principles in such an agricultural model should be called Precision Organic Agriculture (POA).

ESTABLISHING A FUNCTIONAL POA MODEL

The development of appropriate analytical techniques and models in a variety of rapidly changing fields using as cutting edge GIS technology, is a high-demanding procedure. The linkages to different applications of spatial analysis and research and the ability to promote functional and integrated geodatabases is a time consuming, well prepared and carefully executed procedure which combines spatial analytic approaches from different scientific angles: geostatistics, spatial statistics, time-space modeling, mathematics, visualization techniques, remote sensing, mathematics, geocomputational algorithms and software, social, physical and environmental sciences.

An approach of a Precision Organic Farming model, which uses as a structure basis the Precision Agriculture wheel (McBratney et al., 1999) and the introduction of organic practices for the sustainable development with the elaboration of any historical data about the plot. The basic components are:

− Spatial referencing: Gathering data on the pattern of variation in crop and soil parameters across a field. This requires an accurate knowledge of allocation of samples and the GPS network.

− Crop & soil monitoring: Influential factors effecting crop yield, must be monitored at a thoroughly. Measuring soil factors such as electric conductivity, pH etc., with sensors enabling real-time analysis in the field is under research worldwide with focusing on automation of results. Aerial or satellite photography in conjunction with crop scouting is becoming more available nowadays and helps greatly for maximizing data acquisition for the crop.

− Spatial prediction & mapping: The production of a map with thematic layers of variation in soil, crop or disease factors that represents an entire field it is necessary to estimate values for unsampled locations.

− Decision support: The degree of spatial variability found in a field with integrated data elaboration and quality of geodata inputs will determine, whether unique treatment is warranted in certain parts. Correlation analysis or other statistical approaches can be used to formulate agronomically suitable treatment strategies.

− Differential action: To deal with spatial variability, operations such as use of organic-“friendly”-fertilizers, water application, sowing rate, insect control with biological practices, etc. may be varied in real-time across a field. A treatment map can be constructed to guide rate control mechanisms in the field.

GIS systems from their beginning about than 30 years ago, step by step, started to progress from small applications of private companies’ needs to high demanding governmental applications. At the beginning, the significance and capabilities of GIS were focusing on digitizing data; today, we’ve reached the last period of GIS’s evolution of data sharing. Nowadays restrictions and difficulties are not upon the hardware constraints but they are on data dissemination. Several initiatives have been undertaken in order to provide basic standard protocols for overcoming these problem. The need of organisational and institutional cooperation and establishment of international agreement framework becomes even more important. Governments, scientific laboratories, local authorities, Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs), private companies, international organizations, scientific societies and other scientific communities need to find substantial effort to broaden their horizons through horizontal or vertical standards of cooperation.

Any GIS laboratory specialized in monitoring a specific field could give additional knowledge to a coherent laboratory which focus to an other field in the same area. As a result, especially in governmental level, each agency performs its own analysis on its own areas, and with minimal effort cross-agency interactions could increase the efficiency of projects that help the framework of the society.

Such a data-sharing framework was not capable in earlier years, where technological evolution was trying specific restrictions of earlier operational computerised disabilities. Hardly managed and high demanding knowledge in programming applications, unfriendly scheme of computer operating systems over large and expensive programs, and restricted knowledge on Internet applications now belong to the past. User friendly computer operation systems, high storage capacity, fast CPUs (Central Processing Units) sound overwhelming even in relation with PCs before ten years. Powerful notebooks, flexible and strong PDAs, super-computers of enormous capabilities in data storage, true-colour high resolution monitors and other supplementary portable or stable devices, created an outburst in the applications of Information Technology (IT). Additionally, the expansion of Internet in the ‘90s worldwide, contributed (and is still keeping on doing this) on redesigning specific applications for data mining procedures through WWW (World Wide Web), as well as for data exporting capabilities and maps distribution through Internet. The evolution in computer software derived new versions of even friendlier GIS packages.

COMBINING INTERNET AND GIS

The Internet as a system followed an explosive development during the past decade. The modern Internet functions are based on three principles (Castells, 2001):

 − Decentralized network structure where there is no single basic core that controls the whole system.

− Distributed computing power throughout many nodes of the network.

− Redundancy of control keys, functions and applications of the network to minimize risk of disruption during the service.

Internet is a network that connects local or regional computer networks (LAN or RAN) by using a set of communication protocols called TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). Internet technology enables its users to get fast and easy access to a variety of resources and services, software, data archives, library catalogs, bulletin boards, directory services, etc. Among the most popular functions of the Internet is the World Wide Web (WWW). World Wide Web is very easy to navigate by using software called browser, which searches through internet to retrieve files, images, documents or other available data.

The important issue here is that the user does not need to know any software language but all it needs is a simple “click” with mouse over highlighted features called Hyperlinks, giving  increased expansion on growth of WWW globally.

GIS data related files (Remote Sensing data, GPS data, etc) can benefit from globalization of World Wide Web:

− An enormous amount of these data are already in PC-format.

− GIS users are already familiar by using software menus.

− Large files could be easily transmitted through Internet and FTPs and software about compression.

− The Web offers user interaction, so that a distant user can access, manipulate, and display geographic databases from a GIS server computer.

− It enables tutorials modules and access on educational articles.

− It enables access on latest achievements in research of GIS through on-line proceedings of seminars, conferences, etc.

− Through Open Source GIS, it enables latest implementations of GIS programming and data sharing by minimum cost.

− Finally through online viewers, it gives the capability of someone with minimum  knowledge on GIS to get geospatial information by imaging display. (Aber, 2003)

The importance of World Wide Web could become more crucial through wireless Internet access. For a GIS user who works on the street, or in our case, on the field of an organic farm and uses wireless access to the web, a GIS package through a portable device, data transmission is an important issue. This is more important especially if the data are temporalaffected (e.g., meteorological data). To overcome this problem, new data transmission methods need to be elaborated and used in web-based GIS systems to efficiently transmit spatial and temporal data and make them available over the web. Open Source GIS through Internet represents a cross-platform development environment for building spatially enabled functions through Internet applications. Combinations of freely available software through WWW (e.g., image creation, raster to vector, coordinates conversion, etc), with a  combination of programming tools available for development of GIS-based applications could provide standardized geodata access and analytical geostatistical tools with great diplay efficiency. Under this framework, several geospatial applications can be developed using existing spatial data that are available through regional initiatives without costing anything to the end user of this Open GIS System (Chakrabarti et al., 1999).

CERTIFICATIONS AND STANDARDS OF ORGANIC PRODUCTS

As the World Wide Web grew rapidly, sophisticated and specialized methods for seeking and organizing data information have been developed. Powerful search engines can be searched by key words or text phrases. New searching strategies are under development where web links are analyzed in combination with key words or phrases. This improves the effectiveness at seeking out authoritative sources on particular subjects. (Chakrabarti et al., 1999) Digital certification under international cooperatives and standards is fundamental for the development of organic agriculture in general and particularly in the market framework. Based on the theory of “dot per plot” different functional IDs could be created under password protected properties through algorithm modules. This way, a code bar (like those on products in supermarkets) could be related through GIS by farmers ID, locations ID, product ID, parcel ID and could follow this product from organic plot to market places giving all the details about it. Even more, authorization ID could be established this way for controlling even the farmer for cultivated methods undertaken in the field that are underlie EUs’ legislations and directives.

 In many cases the only way to create or maintain a separate “organic market” is through certification which provides several benefits (Raghavan, et al., 2002):

− Production planning is facilitated through indispensable documentation, schedules, cultivation methods and their development, data acquisition (e.g., lab results on soil’s pH, electrical conductivity, organic conciseness, etc.) and general production planning of the farm − Facilitation of marketing, extension and GIS analysis, while the data collected in the process of certification can be very useful as feedback, either for market planning, or for extension, research and further geospatial analysis.

− Certification can facilitate the introduction of special support schemes and management scenarios for organic agriculture, since it defines a group of producers to support.

− Certification tickets on products under international standards improve the image of organic agriculture in the society as a whole and increases the creditability of the organic movement.

Because a certification ticket is not recognised as a guarantee standard by itself, the level of control system in biological farming is quite low. In Greece, we are familiar with farmers having a bench by the road and using hand made tickets for their products, they call them “biologic” aiming in higher prices. Marketing opportunities for real organic farmers are eliminating while at the same time EU is trying to organize the directives for future expansion of organic agriculture.

Designing a functional infrastructure of a Geodatabase, fully related with Internet applications, requires accumulative levels of modular mainframes that could be imported, managed and distributed through WWW applications. The security and reliability of main GIS databases have to be established and confirmed through international standards (ISOs) and authorized GIS packages and users as well as in relation with governmental agencies. On the next level, additional analysis of geodata files and agricultural related information data should be combined and further elaborated. For the base level, fundamental GIS functions and geodata digitization should be implemented through internetic report applications (HTML reports, site-enabled GIS, wireless GIS applications, etc.). By this framework we could create a data base where using any ID number (farmer, product, field, etc) will be easy to recognize the history of any specific item involved in the life cycle of the organic farming through a data-related link over thematic maps by GIS viewers in the Internet. Although this framework is supported by multifunctional operations, we could distinguish sectors with homogeneity features:

In the first level of accessing an Open GIS Web system, the users should be first able to access the system through a Web browser. Free access should be available here for users who want to retrieve information, as well for users who want to login for further, more advanced queries. Fundamental GIS functions and geodata digitization should be implemented through internetic report applications (HTML reports, site-enabled GIS, wireless GIS applications, etc.). In this level public participation is enabled through importing additional geodata sets and any other kind of information resources (for example, latest weather information, market demands, research accomplishments, latest equipment facilities, personal extensions for GIS packages, etc.). The eligibility of these data should be applied after studying standards criteria in the next level by experts. Technological advances are also providing the tools needed to disseminate real-time data from their source to the web mapping services, available to the users through the Internet, portable devices, cellular telephones, etc. Basic field work for agricultural and Remote Sensing purposes, as well as data gathering for further statistical analysis should be implemented. By this level, the user could access the system through browsing commands or hyperlinks and through GIS queries. The significant point here is that the access is completely free for anyone who wants to retrieve information but classified to everyone who wants to submit any kind of information by the meaning that he has to give either a user’s ID or personal details.

The second level of accessing the system , is the authorized expert’s level. Here additional analysis of geodata files and agricultural related information data should be combined and further elaborated. Expert analysts from different scientific fields (GIS, economists, topographers, agriculturists, ecologists, biologists, research, etc.) are “bridging” the two levels of the system by using high sophisticated computer tools and GIS packages to facilitate data transportation through WWW channels between clients and servers. In the database file an identity code (IdC) or feature code (FC) is distributed, following the geodata file from main Geodatabase server to the final user. By this framework we could create a data base where using any ID number (farmer, product, field, etc) will be easy to recognize the history of any specific item involved in the life cycle of the organic farming through a data-related link over thematic maps by GIS viewers in the Internet. Additional demand on this level should be considered to be indispensable a background in Web functions with further support by Web experts for adequate Web System Administration.

In the third level of this Web based GIS system,  the success is relying on cooperation between authorized users only. This partnership should be established between geographic information data providers and data management authorities at a governmental, local or private level by authorized personnel. International collaboration could provide even better results in data quality and quantity but requires additional data storage capabilities and special awareness on data interoperability and standards interchange eligibility confirmed through international standards (ISOs). The security of personal details must be followed enriching this level with further authorization controlling tools. The significance of designing successful strategies for case management, using authorized, legitimate GIS packages should also be supported through Web applications and algorithms available for GIS-Web users on global based patterns .

CONCLUSIONS

The generally accepted purpose of organic agriculture is to meet the needs of the population and environment of the present while leaving equal or better opportunities for those of the future. Development of this sector is increasing through coordinated activities worldwide by international organizations (EU, UN, FAO, etc.) with long-lasting master plans. The dynamic factor of organic agriculture should not be kept without support. Political initiatives should stand side by side with organic farmers helping them to increase the quality of products and to multiply the number of producers and of the cultivated area.

The accumulative development of Organic Agriculture in Europe needs to be followed by additional development of management activities and strategies in national, binational and international level. Combined actions should be undertaken in fields like telecommunications standards, computer software and hardware development, research projects on agricultural management through GIS, additional educative sectors in universities.

The restrictions that accompany organic farming should help in establishing international agreements that will help to increase the number of qualitative standards, allowing better perspectives for developing future GIS based management strategies. The implementation of an Internet Based Precision Organic Agricultural System requires committed research from the agricultural industry and improvements in geoanalysis, agricultural and information technology. GIS based systems will become more essential as a tool to monitor agricultural exchanges between inputs and outputs and in relation with adjacent regions at an increasingly detailed level. The results will enhance the role of Geographic Information as a functional and economic necessity for any productive community.

(Source – http://www.fig.net/pub/athens/papers/ts20/ts20_5_ifadis_et_al.pdf)

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Agroecological Efficiency Of Composts And Humic Fertilizers

Fertilizing ability of composts

In this connection researches of fertilizing ability of composts from various organic  components, including unconventional, in their influence on change of fertility and soil ecological conditions, and also in agricultural crops productivity and quality are actual.

In Russia researches of efficiency of composts from containing organic matter waste in system soil-plant have been lead in Moscow area on the Central experimental station of the All-Russia scientific research institute of agrochemistry named after D.N. Pryanishnikov.

In microfield experiment on sod-podsolic heavy loamy soil the action of composts from sewage deposits and wood waste (coniferous trees sawdust) on perennial cereal grasses (Dactylis glomerata L.) crop was studied.

The sewage deposits came from Kurianovskaya aeration station of Moscow and differed in storage periods. Compost 1 was prepared from sewage deposits after 10 years remaining on drying beds, compost 2 – from a deposit received directly from the aeration station filter-press in year of a trial establishment.

The deposits composting was carried out with addition of wood sawdust in quantity of 10  % of the mix dry weight. For composts efficiency comparative studying the great cattle manure on straw bedding had been used.

Organic fertilizers – both compost and manure – were applied in the soil in the first year of experiment in two dozes: 10 and 35 t/ha of dry substance. In the next years of researches we studied their aftereffect. Mineral fertilizers in treatment N180P60K100 were applied annually: a full doze of phosphorus and half doze of nitrogen and potassium in spring, second half of nitrogen and potassium doze – after the first hay cutting of perennial grasses.

Initial agrochemical parameters values of soil properties in a layer of 0-20 cm were the following: рHKCl – 4, the amount of organic carbon – 0,8 %, mobile phosphorus and potassium (Kirsanov) accordingly – 118 and 119 mg/kg. Investigated organic fertilizers differed on a chemical compound.

These data show that composts from sewage deposits have high fertilizing ability and contain especially much phosphorus – over 5 %. Manure contains less general phosphorus then deposits, but more potassium and organic substance.

The compost from long storage deposit is more polluted by heavy metals, especially Cd and Zn. The general content of heavy metals in this compostе is two times higher than in compostе from a fresh deposit.

In described experiment the application of various dozes of different composts had influenced ambiguously on agrochemical properties of sod-podsolic soil.

In a year of fertilizers application the maximal рH values – 4,5 and 4,7 have been received accordingly in treatments with use of composts made of filter-press deposit, or new deposit, and manure in the raised dozes (35 t/ha). Mineral fertilizers application had not changed reaction of the soil solution; pH value did not differ from the control treatment.

Next year the insignificant increase of pH value in all treatments with organic fertilizers application was observed. In the fifth year of organic fertilizers aftereffect sewage deposit composts and manure in 35 t/ha dozes had the greatest influence on the soil acidity, the shift of рH was accordingly 0,9 and 0,8 units. In a treatment with mineral fertilizers рH did not change during all years of researches.

Thus, usage of composts on the basis of sewage deposits (both new, and old, i.e. 10-years storage) as fertilizer did not influence negatively on acidity of the soil: in all treatments with application of organic fertilizers the increase of рH value was observed, it can be explained with high amount of calcium in them, which at a gradual mineralization of organic substance passed in a soil solution.

Amount of the soil organic substance in the year of fertilizers application had risen in comparison with the control on treatments with high dozes of both investigated composts, and also on both treatments with manure. In the aftereffect of fertilizers in these treatments the amount of organic substance had also increased, deposit compost from a filter-press had been as good as and traditional manure in this parameter.

In treatments of low composts dozes (10 t/ha of dry weight) from the moment of fertilizers application to the fifth year of aftereffect the decrease of organic substance amount in the soil occurred due to its intensive mineralization.

Annual application of mineral fertilizers reduced the amount of organic substance in soil in comparison with the control during first two years of researches. In the fifth year of aftereffect this parameter was at a level of the control.

It is characteristic that in the year of organic fertilizers entering in all treatments the increase of phosphorus amount in soil was observed. At entering deposit composts of different periods of storage in a doze of 10 t/ha the quantity of phosphorus increased in comparison with a control treatment in 1,3-1,5 times in a year of action.

In process of organic substance mineralization the amount of mobile phosphorus had decreased, that was connected with its consumption by plants. The same law was noted in the treatment with a low doze of manure.

Other character of phosphate regime was observed at increasing of organic fertilizers dozes. At entering a high doze of deposit compost from the filter-press amount of mobile phosphorus in the soil had rose over 3 times in comparison with the control and remained stable in all years of experiment.

Usage of composts from a long storage deposit in the increased doze had led to gradual increase in the amount of phosphorus in soil from 220 mg/kg in a year of entering up to 260 mg/kg in the fi fth year of fertilizers aftereffect. Herewith, amount of phosphorus in soil had lower values than in treatments with compost from the fi lter-press deposit in the same doze.

Amount of mobile potassium in soil had decreased in all treatments with application of organic fertilizers, though higher values of this parameter have been received at entering farmyard manure in a doze of 35 t/ha.

In the lead experiment high efficiency of investigated composts had been established by analysis of perennial cereal grasses productivity. For 7 years of experiment average increase of perennial grasses crop dry weight in relation to the treatment without fertilizers had generated, at entering new and old deposit  composts in a dry weight doze of 10 t/ha, accordingly 27 and 23,3 %, and in the raised doze of 35 t/ha increased up to 75,4 and 49,1 %.

An important agroecological aspect of fertilizers usage is their influence on accumulation of heavy metals in soil and plants. According to experiment, entering of composts from sewage deposits raised the amount of  cadmium in soil in comparison with control (without fertilizers) and treatment with manure. More distinctly this dependence was found out at entering drying beds deposit compost in a high doze – 35 t/ha.

Increase of nickel and lead amount in soil was observed only at entering high doze compost from a new deposit. The amount of copper and zinc in soil increased at entering both composts in both dozes.

Amount of heavy metals in plants depended on a composts doze, however in all treatments it did not exceed standards existing in Russia. It is important to note, that forage value of perennial grasses was enough high, especially in such parameter, as phosphorus.  At entering composts from both kinds of sewage deposits with wood waste the appreciable increase of this important element in grassy forages was marked.

Thus, on the basis of conducted experiment it is possible to conclude, that one of effective ways of city sewage deposits recycling is preparation of composts on their basis with subsequent usage as organic fertilizers in forage production.

Composts, prepared from fermented deposits of city sewage with addition of wood waste (sawdust), were characterized by high fertilizing ability and could be used for the major forage crops, fi rst of all for perennial cereal grasses of intensive usage.

Efficiency of plants growth regulators

In a number of field experiments organized by institute in various regions of Russia efficiency of plants growth regulators in the form of humates was studied. The positive effect of humates application at cultivation of grain crops had been received in Krasnodar Territory.

It had been established, that at processing seeds of a winter wheat by K and Na humates in recommended concentration the production process became more active due to increase of tillering intensity and shares of productive stalks in general haulm stand. In turn it created opportunity to mobilize almost insoluble salts and to transform them in accessible forms for plants. As a result reliable increase of a grain yield had been received in treatments with application humates in relation to the control.

The even greater effect was reached at carrying out of double processing with humates – seeds and plants of winter wheat. Potassium humate turned out to be the most effective among studied growth regulators. At processing only seeds of winter wheat with potassium humates the 13 % increase of a grain yield in relation to the control was achieved, at processing only plants – 11,9 %, and at double application of humates, i.e. at processing  by it both seeds, and plants, it reached 15,5 %.

Conclusion

Thus, generalizing results of researches in the fi eld experiments, it is possible to ascertain,  that application both traditional, and unconventional organic fertilizers by optimization of their dozes and combinations to mineral fertilizers, and also regulators of growth in the form of humates, provides increase of productivity of agricultural crops, improves their quality, promotes preservation of soil fertility and preservation of the environment from pollution.

(Source – http://www.ramiran.net/doc08/RAMIRAN_2008/Merzlaya.pdf)

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GPS Guidance and Automated Steering Renew Interest In Precision Farming Techniques

Since the mid-1990s, the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation of 24 satellites orbiting 10,800 miles (17,500km) above Earth has caught the attention of farmers and urban dwellers worldwide.  GPS technology delivers a range of benefits to growers. As global markets become  more competitive and an increasingly populated world  reduces available farm land, GPS guidance is now  being relied upon to drive productivity and efficiencies  in agriculture—from ground preparation to fertilizer application, planting, spraying and harvesting.

The round-about path of precision agriculture

Widespread commercial trials of GPS-based precision  farming began in the mid-1900s. Initially, the focus was on site-specific techniques, where definite locations in the field were mapped for yield and then treated variably with farm inputs such as seed, fertilizer, lime and crop protection treatment. The initial aim of precision farming was to increase farm profitability by using variable rates of farm inputs to increase yield and lower input costs. But with complex biological systems, widely differing farm management practices and erratic weather—among many other variables—this goal was difficult to achieve. Although some growers could show measurable benefits, many others were unable to realize any such gains that could be detected by their agronomic systems and management style.

This lack of predictability greatly hindered the adoption of site-specific precision agriculture, which had made its debut in the late 1980s.

Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) data. For example, in the late 1990s, variable rate technology (VRT) was used to manage soil fertility—mainly N, P, K and lime—on nearly 18 percent of U.S. planted corn area. However, ARMS data indicate that this rate was less than 10 percent of corn planted in 2001, and even lower on soybeans.

As the definitive 2005 Purdue University study cited above notes: “Worldwide, the adoption of precision agriculture technology has been slower and more localized than many analysts in the 1990s expected. In addition, the study includes these relevant facts:

• Yield monitor adoption: In 2000, the U.S. had about 134 yield monitors per million acres (417,500 hectares) of grain or oilseed crops—or about one yield monitor per 7,500 acres (3,000 hectares).  About 37 percent of these yield monitors were being used in conjunction with GPS.

• Precision agriculture usage: In 2001 (the latest year for which these types of ARMS data are  available), the percentage of U.S. corn on which precision agriculture technologies were used  included: Yield monitor – 36.5%,  Yield map (yield monitor w/GPS) – 13.7%, Geo-referenced soil map – 25.0 %, Remotely-sensed (e.g. satellite) 3.4%.

• Pesticide VRT increasing: Variable rate  technology for crop protection chemicals appears  to be on the upswing, although overall adoption  rates are still low (1–3 percent of acres treated), based on most-recent ARMS data.

• Nitrogen VRT promising: The most commercially viable on-the-go technologies for crop production at present focus largely on varying nitrogen fertilizer application rates within fields (as opposed  to phosphorus or potash).

• Economic returns from GPS systems are being measured and proved: A separate 2002 study of GPS auto guidance concludes, in part, “ DGPS auto guidance will be profitable for a substantial group of Corn Belt farmers in the next few years. This will primarily be growers who are now farming as many acres as they can with a given set of equipment. The initial benefit for many growers will come from being able to expand farm size with the same equipment set. A $15,000 investment in DGPS auto guidance is a relatively inexpensive way to expand equipment capacity by several hundred acres.”

• Especially significant: Overall, the costs of information technology hardware and software are continually declining as the productivity of such technology is increasing.

Rapid Adoption of GPS Guidance and Automated Steering

In contrast to variable rate technology, between 1999  and 2006 extremely rapid GPS-driven technology  adoption took hold as demand soared for GPS-based  guidance and equipment automation (or automated steering) systems. Massive adoptionof various GPS  systems to help guide and automatically steer farm  machinery and implements—often to sub-inch  levels—is becoming a technological and social  phenomenon.

The rapid adoption of these GPS systems is being driven by various factors, including the following:

• Tangible payback that customers receive from  their GPS-based guidance systems, including  improved in-field productivity, reduced crop inputs such as fuel, fertilizer and chemicals, reduced  operator fatigue, and the ability to operate machinery longer hours.

• Simple installation and operation.

• Lower cost of guidance technology—noted previously. As with most new technology, especially electronics, the cost of GPS systems continues to decrease.

Thousands of growers operating GPS guidance systems often report tangible benefits after the first few days of using their systems. As a result, more users are indicating interest in trying other aspects of precision agriculture. This phenomenon is generating a surge of interest in site-specific technologies such as yield monitoring and mapping, precision placement and rate control of crop inputs. Top managers and commercial applicators are also adopting data management systems that provide improved field record keeping with the aid of in-cab computers and data loggers. Such systems also fill a significant need for application mapping, accompanied by “proof of performance” data to meet increasingly stringent legal and environmental demands.

As a result, it now appears that the greatest opportunity to expand precision agriculture as originally conceived is to better inform and educate growers on the benefits of GPS-guidance systems.

Once growers can actually measure the value returned by their GPS guidance or automated steering systems—in gallons of fuel saved, hours of reduced labor, additional acres covered per day, or dollars of additional grain, cotton, potatoes or peanuts sold—they feel comfortable about using these systems to further reduce costs and increase income. In other words, the satisfaction and confidence gained from a GPS-based guidance system makes it relatively easy for many growers to upgrade hardware and/or software in order to achieve more automation of their farming operation—all from within the cab.

Interestingly, GPS-based guidance systems often elicit multi-sensory responses from those who purchase and/or operate them: Such systems not only make it possible for managers to see economic returns on their equipment investment, they also make many growers feel as if they are in better operational and economic control of their operation than ever before.

(Based on –  http://www.gpsags.com/media/Precision-Farming-Whitepaper.pdf)

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Variable Rate Application Methods

One important technology-related question is: What  methods of variable-rate application of fertilizer, lime,  weed control, and seed are available? There are a variety of VRA technologies available that can be used with  or without a GPS system. The two basic technologies  for VRA are: map-based and sensor-based.

Map-based VRA adjusts the application rate based  on an electronic map, also called a prescription map.

Using the field position from a GPS receiver and a prescription map of desired rate, the concentration of input  is changed as the applicator moves through the field.

Sensor-based VRA requires no map or positioning  system. Sensors on the applicator measure soil properties or crop characteristics “on the go.” Based on  this continuous stream of information, a control system calculates the input needs of the soil or plants  and transfers the information to a controller, which  delivers the input to the location measured by the sensor. Because map-based and sensor-based VRA have unique benefits and limitations, some SSCM systems  have been developed to take advantage of the benefits  of both methods.

Map-Based VRA

The map-based method uses maps of previously measured items and can be implemented using a number of different strategies. Crop producers and consultants have crafted strategies for varying inputs based on (1) soil type, (2) soil color and texture, (3) topography (high ground, low ground), (4) crop yield, (5) field scouting data, (5) remotely sensed images, and (6)  numerous other information sources that can be crop- and location-specific.

Some strategies are based on a single information source while others involve a combination of sources. Regardless of the actual strategy, the user is ultimately in control of the application rate. These systems must have the ability to determine machine location within the field and relate the position to a desired application rate by “reading” the prescription map.

For example, to develop a prescription map for nutrient  VRA in a particular field, the map-based method could  include the following steps:

• Perform systematic soil sampling (and lab analysis)  for the field.

• Generate site-specific maps of the soil nutrient properties of interest.

• Use an algorithm to develop a site-specific nutrient prescription map.

• Use the prescription map to control a fertilizer variable-rate applicator.

A positioning system is used during the sampling and application steps to record location of the sampling points in the field and to apply the prescribed nutrient rates in the appropriate areas of the field.

Sensor-Based VRA

The sensor-based method provides the capability to vary the application rate of inputs with no prior mapping or data collection involved. Real-time sensors measure the desired properties — usually soil properties or crop characteristics — while on the go. Measurements made by such a system are then processed and used immediately to control a variable-rate applicator. The sensor method doesn’t necessarily require the use of a positioning system, nor does it require extensive data analysis prior to making variable-rate applications. However, if the sensor data are recorded and geo-referenced, the information can be used in future site-specific crop management exercises for creating a prescription

map for other and future operations, as well as to provide an “as applied” application record for the grower.

(Source – http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/442/442-505/442-505_PDF.pdf)

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