Friday, November 08, 2013

Look Deeper.

In my last post I alluded to the use of science and math in agricultural and horticultural practices.  What's involved, you may ask?  Well, lots more than what we, as consumers, ponder in the produce aisle looking at the apple bin.

We live in rural Kansas, and we are surrounded by farms and ranches.  Lots of corn and wheat and soybean.  Sorghum, too.  (Although around here, they say milo.  Potato, potahto.)  Science, science, science.  County extension people keep abreast of what's going on in fields, and work with farmers to anticipate the good and the hardships.  Then, there are topics such as breeds of grain.  Timing of fertilizing.  Spraying of pesticides.  Blister beetles and grasshoppers.  Say, what makes a good soybean?

Our neighbors AI (artificially inseminate) some of their herds of cattle, and they ultrasound their cows.  Science technology!  And there is a whole science to which most people are not privy: grasses, legumes, what to bale, when and how large?  Silage?  Anyone have a recipe for that?

Crop rotations: Corn, then soybeans and wheat, then sugarbeets.  Why does a rotation of wheat and sugarbeets produce better yields than, say, soybeans and sugar beets?  Science will tell you.  And the matters of seeding row width and rates certainly are subjects for your favorite word problems.  

Cranberry season is in full swing in New England and the Pacific Northwest, as I write.  Orchard growers in the Southern Hemisphere are gearing up for their cherry season in the next month.

Apple season is nearing its end up in the Pacific Northwest.  Apple pickers, most often migrant workers, have made their way from south to north, and will continue on up through part of Canada, picking apples.  The apples are gently dropped into canvas bags slung over their shoulders.  From there, the apples go to baskets, which are then deposited into trucks.  The apple trucks take the harvest to packing houses which dot the orchard-filled landscape.  And then what?  Well, there is a huge industry of quality control.  Science and math, math and science.  Apples are sorted and graded.  They are shipped all over the United States, and all over the world.  Apples that don't make the cut applesauce.  How do they keep the apples fresh?  Controlled atmosphere: (CA).  CA is a process which controls the oxygen level, the temperature, and humidity in huge packing-houses filled with thousands of boxes of apples.  Math and science, science and math.  How do they keep all those apples from bruising?  Research in postharvest handling, again: science and math, math and science.  Things like sending an instrumented sphere (a round ball with a computer in it), through the entire trip along with apples being picked and packed and stored, from the tree, into the migrant worker's bag, into the basket, then the truck, and into the packing house.  Then someone can take the IS (instrumented sphere) and hook it up to a desktop, and see the results: at what point in harvest does the fruit suffer the most damage?   Then they can improve whatever needs improving in their practice.

So you see, there is so much to think about the next time you grab that bag of potatoes, or that 100% cotton shirt.  It's a fun thing to look into, science and math and horticulture and agriculture.

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