MSU study can help Midwest farmers with $536 million problem

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EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – A new Michigan State University study shines light on the field of big data and digital technology to grow farmers knowledge on adapting to present and future threats.

Between 2007 and 2016, the U.S. economy took an estimated $536 million economic hit because of climate variability across the Midwest.

Unstable farmland affects more than one-quarter of corn and soybean cropland

Bruno Basso, MSU Foundation professor of earth and environmental sciences, and his postdoctoral research fellow, Rafael Martinez-Feria, set out to identify areas within individual fields where yield is unstable for the National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s Coordinated Agricultural Project that Basso has led since 2015.

“First, we wanted to know why — and where — crop yields varied from year to year in the corn and soybean belt of the U.S.,” Basso said. “Next, we wanted to find out if it was possible to use big data to develop and deploy climate-smart agriculture solutions to help farmers reduce cost, increase yields and limit environmental impact.”

Using satellites, research aircraft, drones and remote sensors, and from farmers, Basso and Martinez-Feria combined data and digital expertise.

They found that multiple interactions affected unstable area including terrain variations, extreme weather and soil.

Roughly two-thirds of unstable zones occur where terrain slopes up or down because water stands or runs off.

Basso believes their work will help determine the future of climate-smart agriculture technologies.

“Combining big data spatially with landscape position this way could forever change the way midwestern farmers fertilize their fields, and ultimately reduce the amount of reactive nitrogen getting into our water,” said Jim Dobrowolski, NIFA national program leader.

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