There’s a farm in Arkansas growing soybeans, corn, and rice that is aiming to be the most scientifically advanced farm in the world. Soil samples are run through powerful machines to have their microbes genetically sequenced, drones are flying overhead taking hyperspectral images of the crops, and soon supercomputers will be crunching the massive volumes of data collected.
Scientists at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), working with the University of Arkansas and Glennoe Farms, hope this project, which brings together molecular biology, biogeochemistry, environmental sensing technologies, and machine learning, will revolutionize agriculture and create sustainable farming practices that benefit both the environment and farms. If successful, they envision being able to reduce the need for chemical fertilizers and enhance soil carbon uptake, thus improving the long-term viability of the land, while at the same time increasing crop yields.
A central piece of the research is understanding the role of microbes in the health of the soil.
“Microbes are a critical component of soil health and productivity,” said scientist Ben Brown. “By understanding how microbes work and modifying the environments where they function, we can eventually engineer microbial communities to enhance soil productivity. What’s more, Berkeley Lab’s research is showing that healthy soils are more resilient to system shocks such as climate change, drought, and insects.”
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