Interdisciplinary knowledge accelerates innovative solutions

Interdisciplinary knowledge accelerates innovative solutions


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The power of ideas in modern agriculture, which can be born within different disciplines, is multiplied by their cross fertilization eliminating the barriers between silos of knowledge, growing healthier crops, regenerating soil health, and improving farm economics.

We constantly increase our knowledge about the world, how it works, and how we can apply that knowledge to solve our challenges. Not only the amount of what we know increases, but the way we acquire and apply this knowledge evolves too. Older methods of organizing information are replaced by ones that make a better use of the tools available, and new approaches prove themselves in the competitive landscape of ideas to be fitter. In this view the models and the hypotheses don’t even matter, what matters is the effectiveness of arriving at useful results. In the Middle Ages the holy grail of the alchemists was to transform lead into gold using mercury. Today, using energies and tools vastly beyond the reach of experimenters from 700 years ago, we can actually transform one element into an other in our nuclear reactors. The fact that this is based on knowledge unavailable then matters less than the fundamental mistake of the alchemists: obsessed by secrecy, the mortal dangers of their approach, being poisoned by lead or mercury, could not be avoided by others who were bound to repeat them. Open sharing of knowledge, and understanding thrive in science and at Universities, greatly enhancing our capability to incentivizing smart ideas and culling mistaken ones.

New research in the areas of botany.

Agriculture is a profession of generalists. Farmers need a broad base of knowledge encompassing a number of different areas, ranging from soil nutrition, to mechanics, and animal husbandry, as well as many others. In an effort to evaluate these various pieces in greater depth, we have fragmented the skill base used in agriculture into a variety of professions and areas of research expertise. Today, exceptional research is being conducted in the areas of botany, plant physiology, plant genetics, agronomy, entomology, and plant pathology. Unfortunately, much of this research is not effectively communicated to research scientists in other areas, and even less is effectively transferred to a production scale in the field. This communication gap has led to distinct dysfunction in our development of agricultural systems capable of feeding a growing world population. (The FAO, the UN, and the WHO have all indicated that our current method of agriculture is incapable of feeding the expected world population of 10 billion people by 2050. Their reports state very clearly that regenerative models of agriculture need to be adopted on a broad scale to provide the food needed for a growing population.)

Research and Development

The unfortunate development of specialist research not being cross communicated across boundaries has resulted in a few distinct areas of research capturing the limelight, becoming highly developed for a few commodity crops, (genetics, for example) while the contributions which could be made from additional research areas remain largely undeveloped. For example, a great deal of research has been done in botany, plant physiology, and plant pathology which correlates nutritional integrity with enhanced epigenetic expression, the ability to resist insects and disease, produce much higher yields, and become resistant to drought. This research could contribute a great deal to improved crop performance if it were implemented.

Innovation through digital technology

Digital technology offers an opportunity to understand the bigger system of agriculture and the ways all these pieces relate to each other much better. Today, agriculture is beginning to take advantage of data collection for a few parameters on a few specific commodity crops. In the near future, as digital technology continues to evolve and is deployed in agriculture, a web of sophisticated field sensors and drones will be able to measure a broad range of parameters with a high degree of sensitivity.
This innovative approach is practiced by Advancing Eco Agriculture, a novel regenerative farming company, and its founder John Kempf, assisting farmers in growing healthier crops, regenerating soil health, and improving farm economics. With the data developed from measuring what is happening in the fields, it will be possible to compute the parameters that correlate disease or insect susceptibility with a high degree of accuracy. This will enable farmers to make proactive, rather than reactive decisions, and allow them to effectively prevent crop loss to diseases or insects by giving them the information they need to adjust a plants nutritional balance before it becomes susceptible to potential pathogens.

A version of this article originally appeared on Exponet Magazine, the online publication of Expo2015 Milan.

This post is also available in: Italian