Far Out Farming
By iNDIGO PROjECT
The continual fluctuation of weather, crop pests, and economic markets make the business of industrial farming uncontrollable and unpredictable. The ingenuity and innovation of scientists and engineers is continually being applied to inspire new techniques and practices to agronomic problems. Progressive thinkers at AgriHouse Inc are working to design solutions to make space the final farm frontier.
Richard Stoner, Founder and & President of AgriHouse Inc. in Berthoud, Colorado, found his way into the business of farming and farm technologies through an introduction to Aeroponics in 1983. Aeroponics is the process of growing plants while they are suspended in air by misting their root system with an atomized water and nutrient solution designed to optimize plant root access to oxygen and nutrients while minimizing water usage. This process promotes faster plant growth and a plant that can survive on less water and nutrients than traditional soil cultivation. Stoner’s early Aeroponics research helped the company receive development grants from NASA. With the two NASA grants, Stoner developed the Inflatable Flex-Aeroponics System in the mid ‘80s. This low mass device worked well for NASA’s need for high performance, low impact food production. After initial testing, NASA remained hungry for additional aeroponic systems to efficiently provide food on long-term space missions.
In 1992, Stoner partnered with Dr. Jim Lindon of Colorado State University on a project to extract taxol from Pacific yew trees, a compound known to inhibit growth of certain cancers. The Taxol experiment led them to develop a plant elicitor that works as a bio-control mechanism for plant development. This elicitor is a natural organic material that stimulates specific cellular metabolic pathways and thereby boosts natural enzyme production. The result translates into physiological responses such as faster growth, plentiful yield and enhanced disease control. NASA again expressed interest in Stoner’s research, and through a partnership with BioServe Space Technologies, the NASA Commercialization Center launched plant-growth experiments using AgriHouse’s elicitor BEYOND Plant Amendment to the MIR Space Station in the mid-1990’s. These experiments led to another grant from NASA, a Small Business Innovation Research grant awarded to help continue development of aeroponics technology and its adaptation to use in space.
In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency officially registered AgriHouse’s second plant elicitor YEA! (Yield Enhancing Agent) under the new registration of an Organic Bio-Pesticide. A Bio-Pesticide is made of natural products and does not contain toxic chemicals to thwart unwanted organisms. Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service used YEA! to combat the Pine Beetle epidemic that had been killing thousands of trees in the northwestern region of North America. The Forest Service notes that YEA! stimulates resin flow within trees that were stunted due to drought. The increased flow of resin works as the trees natural defense mechanism, forcing the burrowing Pine Beetles out of the bark.
The problems in the drought plagued region of the northwest inspired Stoner to develop further instruments to better regulate the use of water in the agricultural industry. . Funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Stoner and Dr. Hans Seelig at the University of Colorado developed a sensor that measures the thickness of a leaf to determine when the plant needs water. A lack of water content within the cells of a leaf causes the leaf to diminish in size. The sensor detects the ‘water deficient stress’ and sends an electronic signal that can be received via cell phone text message, notifying the farmer of the plant’s stress level. After testing the sensor at the USDA Field Research Center in Greeley, Colorado, researchers estimated a 25 percent reduction in water usage as a result of the precise measurements taken from the leaf sensor.
Stoner and his colleagues continue to push the envelope for the future of far-out farming. As the population of the globe exponentially grows and environmental degradation extends into the foreseeable future, farming practices need to be constantly refined. The revolutionary developments from AgriHouse send minds into orbit as we think about the progressive future of farming with reduced waste, more efficient consumption, and minimal toxic imprint on the planet.
To learn more about the technologies developed at AgriHouse, Inc visit www.agrihouse.com, www.aeroponics.com and www.bio-pharms.com.