Learning From the Ground UpShare
As we are about to wrap up this amazing internship, we would like to touch on our project experience and how it has evolved over the summer. Although it has shifted quite a bit, we are very proud of the final product and hope that Land O'Lakes will utilize it in the future.
We first received our projects in mid-March and were tasked with creating a proposal and timeline to keep us on track during the fellowship. The challenge asked us to "connect the dots between sustainability, grower profitability and water optimization for Winfield through leveraging satellite imagery." At first, we believed that the focus on water conservation was a priority – however, as we discussed the proposal further with our advisor, Teddy Bekele, we decided that we needed to prioritize the economic incentive for it to be implemented on a large scale.
Our travels to Rwanda, Kenya, Washington D.C., and rural co-ops helped to add an international, national and local perspective to our project. In Rwanda and Kenya, we saw new ideas and projects like ours that were being scaled to feed a developing continent and its burgeoning population. On a local level, the rural co-ops showed us the daily interactions between agricultural operations and the environment and how growers choose to steward their land. In Washington D.C., we learned about federal agricultural policies and how Minnesota and Iowa state laws and regulations affect a grower's yield and general water quality. For example, the Minnesota buffer law requires that all growers decommission a 50-foot strip near waterways or ditches, which decreases profits for farmers. Our proposal could help provide a legal alternative to decommissioning land while minimizing soil erosion and cutting time, effort, and costs.
Because the world population is projected to be 9 billion by 2050, measures are being taken now to ensure a globally food secure future. The solutions will be varied and diversified, and our project is just a drop in the ocean of efforts to feed the world. By increasing farmer's average crop yield through decreasing soil erosion, it is worth noting that food security, and all the operations that make it possible, must prioritize environmental health in order to be sustainable in the long-term. Our proposal, while it emphasizes the economic incentive for the farmer, is inherently rooted in the idea that ecosystems and their processes, such as nutrient cycling, have moral, aesthetic and economic value, all of which affect food security.
For example, by learning where soil is most susceptible to erosion, the farmer can then program precision sprayer tools to apply fertilizer more efficiently to reduce phosphorus loss, and thus, the cost of inputs. Those efforts, in turn, are one part of helping the environment.
Overall, our team has not only become much more educated on the connection between agriculture and environment but has become well-versed on the technical knowledge needed to connect the two; we learned how to use Winfield's R7® and Agren's SoilCalculator and Sustainability Solution tools in tandem to provide growers with the information and tools to save money and the earth at the same time.
About the Authors: Megan Schnell (Iowa State University), Blake Schweiner (University of Minnesota) and Diana Fu (Northwestern University) are three Land O’Lakes Emerging Leaders who are working hard to find new ways to feed the world using fewer resources. You can connect with all of them on Facebook!