Sustainable farming tech gets put to the test on demonstration farm

Labs aren’t the only places where new technologies are tested. A partnership between industry and academia will turn an 80-acre site near Ames, Iowa, into a testbed for sustainable agricultural innovations. 

Illinois equipment manufacturer John Deere is partnering with Iowa State University to create a demonstration farm that offers real-world scenarios for trial-and-error testing. The goal is to demonstrate various grain crop management strategies with different levels of sustainability at a commercial scale. 

Sustainable farming centers on feeding a growing population and doing so in a way that doesn’t negatively impact environmental footprints, soil, and other resources, said Matt Darr, Iowa State University professor of agriculture and biosystems engineering, in a project launch video. A big question for farmers is how to actually implement these concepts at scale, especially in a way that makes financial sense.

“Typically when we hear about farmers implementing sustainable practices, we hear about their yield. But we don’t always get the necessary background information, like their soil information or the ROI,” Teresa Middleton, Iowa State University agronomist, said in the video. “I think being able to really look at all those different things over a long period of time is really going to help us be transparent and be able to learn a lot.”

The researchers will divide the demonstration farm into different fields to test crops common to the region, like corn and soybeans, according to KJAN. They’ll use Deere technologies, including AutoTrac, a precision planting system that can result in less fertilizer and fuel use. 

Tests will run for five years. Researchers will gather and track data about carbon intensity, soil health, water quality, biodiversity, crop productivity, and production costs.

The demonstration farm also will serve as an educational ground for agriculture students and employees, in addition to a new equipment showcase.

“I’m excited and proud of the fact that we’ve been able to translate our science into practice through this field demonstration in a way that we think has a huge opportunity to impact society,” Darr said.