High-tech ag showcased in tour

GREELEY – A device used for scanning an animal’s retina, technology that detects nutrients in crops and efforts to produce drought-resistant corn highlight a tour showcasing the technology that drives Weld County’s agriculture industry.

The Greeley Chamber of Commerce’s Agriculture Committee organizes the ag tour annually to inform people about Northern Colorado agriculture. Past focuses included water’s relationship with agriculture.

“This year, we decided that we really needed to introduce people to the technology that’s being used in ag,” said Kim Barbour, the Greeley Chamber’s public affairs director. “It’s not just the farmer on the old tractor going through his field. It’s very sophisticated.”

Weld County ranks first in the state and eighth nationwide in terms of farm and ranch market value, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The annual market value of agricultural activity in the county exceeds $1.5 billion.

Led by chief executive Justin Cobb, Fort Collins-based Summit View Solutions sells technology that captures retinal images of livestock to properly identify them. The technology can be used as a supplement to ear tags commonly placed on animals.

Originally developed by Optibrand and Colorado State University, the device, essentially a small camera and tablet, captures images of an animal’s retina for uploading onto a computer. Each retina has a unique network of blood vessels that aids identification.

The company markets the product to livestock show organizers to help judges verify animals’ identities to thwart any switching of animals shown at state and county fairs.

“For example, 4-H shows need to be able to make sure that the kids are showing the same animals throughout the show season,” said Jenny Brown, customer relations representative for Summit View. “They’re checking in those animals in the spring or winter, and they need to make sure that those are the same animals that are being shown at the fair.”

CSU professor Raj Khosla also will present on technology during the ag tour. Khosla, a precision agriculture and extension specialist, has been involved in efforts to test a new sensor instrument from French company Force-A that measures nutrient levels in crops remotely. Instead of removing leaves from crops and sending them to a lab for analysis, which can take time and money, the sensor hones in on a crop canopy and instantly displays readings on nutrients. Those measurements can help farmers decide how much fertilizer to apply to their crops.

“There’s a lot of interest by farmers to be able to predict how many nutrients need to be applied to the crops, such that they apply the right amount of nutrients at the right place and right time and maximize their productivity, efficiency and profitability,” he said.

Khosla and a team of researchers also are working to perfect irrigation systems. The work includes managing water flow rates from every nozzle on an irrigation system with the goal of allowing farmers to adjust water use in thousands of individual zones in sections of cropland.

Soils in various farm locations absorb water at different rates, so the new systems will help farmers better manage water use in arid regions such as Northern Colorado.

Using the improved water systems, “We can cut back water applications by as much as 50 percent,” Khosla said.

People on the ag tour also will tour a DuPont Pioneer research station in LaSalle, where 13 researchers breed drought-resistant varieties of corn to improve crop growth mostly in dry high-plains regions, but also nationwide. Moved from Nebraska to Colorado in 2004, the station has a goal to increase crop yields by 2 percent annually, said Bill Curran, research scientist and station manager.

“We have (varieties) that have been developed at our LaSalle research station that are grown across the country,” Curran said. “That’s a real benefit.”

Many Americans have scant knowledge of how farmers and ranchers produce their food, Barbour said. The Greeley Chamber hopes the tour will give people a greater understanding of the challenges and intricacies of producing food for a growing global population.

“In 2013, too many people think that food comes from the grocery store,” she said. “They don’t understand the original work that has to happen for that food to be there for them to buy.”

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