Sustainability in Agriculture

Jed Colquhoun, Extension Fruit and Vegetable Production Specialist
Department of Horticulture
UW-Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences
colquhoun@wisc.edu
608-852-4513

Total time: 2:54

0:18 What is sustainable agriculture
1:03 Measuring sustainable agriculture
1:43 The future of sustainable agriculture
2:43 Lead out

 

Transcript

 Zoey Rugel: Sustainability in agriculture. Today, we’re visiting with Jed Colquhoun, Extension Fruit and Vegetable Production Specialist, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension, in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and I’m Zoey Rugel. So, Jed, what is sustainable agriculture and why the current interest?

 

Jed Colquhoun: Thanks for asking. Sustainability is certainly nothing new and neither is sustainable agriculture, but more recently the food supply chain has become interested in measuring sustainability. This really grew out of industrial sustainability metrics, where it’s fairly easy to measure different parameters. For example, you can change the light bulbs in a factory and watch the electric meter slow down. In agriculture, we really don’t have meters and the term sustainability itself is rather nebulous, because it could cover everything from carbon and water footprint, to labor, and all the different measures that are hard to quantify.

 

Zoey Rugel: What are ways you can try to measure sustainability in agriculture?

 

Jed Colquhoun: So, what we’re doing really is looking at how we use the data that we’ve collected not only to measure not only to measure change over time, but also look at ways that we can tell the farmer how they can change what they’re doing on their farm to improve production and reduce environmental risk, but also measure the economics of making those changes. In other words, if they adopt a new practice that’s more sustainable, how much would it cost and how does it affect their bottom line? So, we not only tell them how they’re doing compared to their neighbors, but we tell them how much it would cost to drive that change.

 

Zoey Rugel: What’s next in sustainable agriculture?

 

Jed Colquhoun: We’re looking at different ways that we can combine the power of big data with the predictability of using machine learning to change precision agriculture. We’re currently involved in a really cool project with the cooperation and generosity of the Wisconsin Cranberry Growers, looking at how we use this big data and machine learning to take their sustainability data and use it in a predictive way, so they can look forward instead of backwards and it’s been really interesting so far. We’ve identified some pieces that maybe growers haven’t thought of. We’re also developing a simulated farm where they can use that data and interact with it online so that they can make some of those changes online before they do it on the farm. In other words, they can take the risk while playing an online game, instead of investing in the future of their farm. Based on those results, it will help them make decisions economically, environmentally, and for the next generation of farmers.

 

Zoey Rugel: We’ve been visiting with Jed Colquhoun, Extension Fruit and Vegetable Production Specialist, Department of Horticulture, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension, in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, and I’m Zoey Rugel.

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