Rodale Institute Tests Real-Time Yield Technology
Writer Michael Vyskocil
Photographer Lucia De Giovanni
The pastoral landscapes surrounding Rodale Institute in eastern Berks County—with its sweeps of cultivated fields, century-old barns, and well-worn country roads—belie a hive of agritech innovations happening here.
The Rodale Institute’s 300-acre living laboratory has been the nucleus of organic agriculture for decades. Here, some of the world’s leading authorities in organic agriculture management apply research to practical applications of how organic agriculture benefits the health of soil, people, and the planet.
Home to the longest running Farming Systems Trials (FST) in the country, the Rodale Institute has sought to debunk myths that organic agricultural practices couldn’t compete with conventional agriculture—with its use of synthetic fertilizers and herbicides—for crop yields.
Bob Rodale, who founded the FST at Rodale Institute, probably couldn’t have foreseen the level of technology used to assist Rodale’s researchers. But technology here continues to be a leading driver of research and development for organic farming practices.
Computer-assisted data tracking recently came onto the scene as a game changer for tabulating crop yields. For years, the process meant weighing and hand recording yield data after harvest. But now, an equipment operator manning a combine can instantly record this data in real time, as the harvesting is occurring.
GPS-tracking technology further enhances the ability of the Rodale researchers to accurately track crop plots and yields across acres and acres of its test fields.
“We’ve been running the FST for more than 35 years. In that time, our research has gotten savvy about technology,” says Rodale Institute Executive Director Jeff Moyer. “Increasing technology, like faster Internet speeds, would allow us to share our knowledge that organic farming systems can feed the world, and feed the word well, to an even wider community across the globe in today’s ever-increasingly, digitally-driven society.”
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