Future of farming includes precision tech, smart use of ‘big data’

Modern farm machinery and unmanned aerial vehicles are opening new doors for the collection of valuable data to help growers improve production and the environment.

Modern farm machinery and unmanned aerial vehicles are opening new doors for the collection of valuable data to help growers improve production and the environment.

In the world of agriculture, having access to rich data sources about field conditions, weather patterns, pests and more can make a huge difference in the profitability and sustainability of Ohio farms.

The Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center is working with farmers, industry groups and state agencies to boost access to and analysis of field data gathered from new-generation farm machinery, satellite data and remote-sensing imagery captured by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

“Data can support farmers’ management decisions, for example how much nitrogen should be applied to corn and whether or when a fungicide needs to be used,” OARDC and Ohio State University Extension precision agriculture specialist John Fulton said. “But all this enormous amount of data needs to be gathered and provided quickly for farmers to make the best use of it.”

A key goal of Fulton’s work is to create a repository that will then be made available to growers in a user-friendly manner to help them make data-driven decisions.


The enhanced use of precision farming technology and “big data” analysis can benefit the agricultural industry and society in three key areas.

  • Economy: Providing remote-sensing imagery and other types of data to growers and their crop consultants can help growers make more efficient use of fertilizers and other expensive inputs, thus lowering costs.
  • Environment: Reducing fertilizer and agrochemical applications benefits the environment, protecting water, pollinators and other valuable natural resources.
  • Research: Developing an extensive data repository can help university scientists save time in their research projects and develop innovative recommendations to assist both farmers and the environment.

Tackling avian flu and other dangerous poultry diseases

Lee bird flu

Virologist Chang-Won Lee conducts research — including the development of new vaccines and diagnostic tests — to combat avian flu and other respiratory diseases of poultry.

Since November 2014, an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza H5 spread by wild waterfowl has gripped the U.S. poultry industry, killing close to 50 million birds in at least 19 states.

While the virus has not yet reached Ohio, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center experts are conducting innovative research to improve detection, prevention and management of avian flu and other respiratory diseases that threaten the state’s valuable poultry industry.

For instance, virologist Chang-Won Lee leads a U.S. Department of Agriculture $7.2 million grant that partners scientists and colleagues at The Ohio State University with other universities.

The project’s goal is threefold: to better understand the ecology of poultry diseases in order to develop more effective prevention strategies; to validate diagnostic methods currently employed and create better ones as needed; and to gain a better understanding of the relationship between disease, host and environment in order to aid in the development of new control methods.


• The current avian flu outbreak is a serious threat to Ohio’s $2.3 billion poultry industry, which directly supports more than 14,600 jobs. Nationally, Ohio ranks second in egg production and ninth in turkey production.

• If Ohio were to experience just a 50 percent poultry production loss, Ohio State University Extension estimates the effect would reach $1 billion in overall economic losses, including $815,000 in annual wages.

• Heavy losses to Iowa’s egg farms from this virus have sent egg prices soaring across the United States. If the virus reaches Ohio, prices would increase even more dramatically, affecting both consumers and food manufacturers.

More: go.osu.edu/birdflu

How to make a brownfield green: OARDC team turns waste into soil

What to do with an “87-acre wasteland of glassy slag”? The fix came — richly — from the sewers.

What to do with an “87-acre wasteland of glassy slag”? The fix came — richly — from the sewers.

In Chicago, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center scientist Nick Basta and his colleagues are helping restore “an 87-acre wasteland of glassy slag” using topsoil made from biosolids. Basta is a professor in the School of Environment and Natural Resources.

Biosolids are treated sewage sludge. Once treated, they’re safe to use, free of pathogens and full of nutrients that help plants grow. In this case, the sewage came from Chicago’s sanitary sewer system.

In test plots at the site, a biosolids-based soil blend made by Basta and team worked better than a wood-chip-based compost at supporting plants and beneficial soil organisms.

The slag is waste from steel mills that used to be on the site.

“You have to bring in the soil [to restore the site],” Basta said in a Dec. 16 story in TerraDaily. “Why not connect the dots and bring in what’s available locally?”

New place for plants — and for migrant birds, too?

  • The steel mill site, located on Chicago’s southeast side, is called the Lake Calumet Cluster site.
  • In 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added the site to the Superfund National Priorities List.
  • Superfund is the federal program that investigates and cleans up the worst hazardous waste sites in the U.S.
  • The restored Lake Calumet site will hopefully become a rest stop for birds migrating along the nearby shoreline of Lake Michigan, the TerraDaily story said.

Read about more new research by Nick Basta here.

Read the TerraDaily story here.

How U.S. metal foundries can save $40 million a year

New OARDC research will benefit businesses like Columbus Castings, shown here, say OARDC’s Nicholas Basta, left, and the Ohio Cast Metals Association’s Russ Murray, right. (Photo: Ken Chamberlain, CFAES.)

New OARDC research will benefit businesses like Columbus Castings, shown here, say OARDC’s Nicholas Basta, left, and the Ohio Cast Metals Association’s Russ Murray, right. (Photo: Ken Chamberlain, CFAES.)

What to do with 10 million tons of sand every year that would otherwise go in a landfill? Use it to grow plants and industry.

Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center scientists Nicholas Basta and Elizabeth Dayton worked in tandem with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to do detailed testing of spent foundry sand for such toxins as heavy metals. The sand is a byproduct of the metal casting industry.

Their findings fed into a risk assessment by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The assessment determined that spent foundry sand, when put back to use in some soil applications, is safe for people’s health and the environment. The finding applies only to silica sand from aluminum, iron and steel foundries.

The work has opened new business doors. Ohio’s green industry now can manufacture and market new soil mixes using the sand. And the state’s many metal casting foundries can reduce their landfilling costs, save money and stay competitive.

“Based on this research, Ohio EPA is developing new rules for beneficially reusing spent foundry sand,” said Russ Murray, executive director of the Ohio Cast Metals Association. “We’re confident these rules will provide opportunities for Ohio foundries to significantly reduce their disposal costs for the sand. This should make these foundries more competitive.”


  • Ohio is the No. 1 metal casting state in the nation. Its 200-plus foundries provide 22,000 jobs and produce metal castings for products such as cars, trucks, tractors, turbines, aircraft and appliances.
  • Reusing 10 percent of the 10 million tons of spent foundry sand sent to landfills every year can save U.S. foundries about $40 million annually. That’s based on an average disposal cost of $40 a ton.
  • The potential savings for Ohio and U.S. foundries will be a leg up in an increasingly competitive international market.
  • Reusing spent foundry sand will also create new businesses and jobs. These businesses and jobs will be based on using spent foundry sand to make new soil blends and soil substitutes.

Read more about this research here.

New hypoallergenic latex creates business opportunity

Graduate student Cindy Barrera Martínez (left) and researcher Katrina Cornish make latex gloves for testing at OARDC’s alternative rubber pilot plant in Wooster.

Graduate student Cindy Barrera Martínez (left) and researcher Katrina Cornish make latex gloves for testing
at OARDC’s alternative rubber pilot plant in Wooster.

Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center researchers have developed new materials that will allow medical professionals to have the natural latex gloves they prefer, while avoiding the risk of allergic reactions.

The patent-pending materials include a latex film made from guayule that is safe for both Type I and Type IV latex allergy sufferers, and a traditional Hevea rubber tree latex film that is Type IV-hypoallergenic.

“Guayule is a U.S. desert shrub that produces a high-quality latex which is very strong, tear-resistant, soft, comfortable and less irritating than synthetic materials from which many gloves are now made,” said Katrina Cornish, The Ohio State University’s Ohio Research Scholar and endowed chair in bioemergent materials. “And guayule latex is naturally Type I-hypoallergenic.”

To make the guayule and Hevea gloves Type IV-hypoallergenic, Cornish and her graduate students used new “accelerators” — chemicals added to speed up the curing reactions and production of latex products — that don’t leave residues associated with this type of allergy in the finished product.


  • Medical professionals prefer natural rubber latex gloves over synthetic ones because they are stronger, have more tactile sensitivity, provide superior protection to blood-borne pathogens and cause less hand fatigue.
  • Latex is also the preferred material for many healthcare and consumer products such as catheters, masks, dental dams, orthodontic rubber bands and condoms.
  • The Ohio State University is conducting guayule trials in southern Ohio with the aim of developing a new domestic rubber-and-latex-producing crop as well as economic opportunities in the region.
  • Cornish is also working with partners in South Africa to grow guayule there and to produce allergy-free condoms, empowering poor women to start their own enterprises while helping to combat the AIDS epidemic.
  • A startup company — EnergyEne Inc., headquartered in Wooster — has been established to lead the development and commercialization of products made from these new latex materials.

“Having a steady supply of domestically produced natural latex would open the door for major dipped-goods manufacturers and medical glove producers to re-establish facilities in the U.S.,” said Tom Marsh, president of Centrotrade Minerals & Metals, Chesapeake, Virginia. “As a raw material supplier, we applaud the work championed by Dr. Cornish and supported by OARDC.”

More: go.osu.edu/nk3

OSU Extension helps communities prepare for shale-related impacts


Shale workers keep area hotels filled to capacity. While that’s an economic boost, leaders like Norm Blanchard work to minimize the drawback of potential tourists being turned away.

In 2010, Guernsey County’s unemployment rate was 14.7 percent. Thanks to shale development, it tumbled to 5.7 percent by May 2014.

That’s all well and good, but the shale-related boom has other implications.

“A gas and oil guy from Midland, Texas, came to speak and told us to be prepared for our population to grow from about 11,500 to 100,000 in the next 15 years — at least, that’s what happened in Midland,” said Norm Blanchard, president of the Cambridge-Guernsey County Community Improvement Corporation. “When that hit the newspaper, we got calls. What are we doing to plan for this? How would we handle that kind of growth?” On the flip side, how should the region prepare for when shale development declines?

To help, Ohio State University Extension is tapping a $200,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to work with four regional EDA offices representing 25 eastern Ohio counties. Together they are examining shale’s economic, social and environmental impacts and developing plans for sustainable development.


The OSU Extension project is:

  • gathering and analyzing volumes of data to track the area’s economic, social and environmental conditions, including measurements on employment, population, income, charitable giving, school enrollment, crime, housing, noise, traffic counts, air quality, and water quantity and quality.
  • examining the growth and contraction of specific industry segments. This will allow targeted actions to help local businesses adjust when the active shale construction phase ends.
  • identifying sectors that need local investment. In some areas, the focus might be on infrastructure; others might zero in on housing, community amenities, entrepreneurship or workforce training.
  • working with regional EDA offices to foster long-term planning across community and county lines.
  • piloting educational materials in Guernsey County, thanks to another $20,000 grant. Community leaders across the Midwest will be able to use the materials to incorporate shale development into their strategic planning.

“OSU Extension is not only giving us guidance, but they’ve been in touch with other states that have already been through shale development, and they’re providing us with that experience and expertise,” Blanchard said.  “It’s been invaluable.”

More: go.osu.edu/shalecommdev

‘It blows their minds’: Challenges inspire youth to seek STEM careers

The Ohio State University is a partner of Global Impact STEM Academy, which offers hands-on learning in agbioscience fields, including food science, environmental sustainability, and biobased energy and products.

The Ohio State University is a partner of Global Impact STEM Academy, which offers hands-on learning in agbioscience fields, including food science, environmental sustainability, and biobased energy and products.

In 2012, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology predicted that over the next decade, U.S. industries will need one million more STEM graduates than the nation will have.

In 2013, Ohio State University Extension created the STEM Pathways signature program to spark enthusiasm in young people about science, technology, engineering and math. “STEM isn’t dry and boring. It’s fun, it’s exciting,” said Patty House, 4-H youth development educator and program leader. “You can use it to help solve real-world problems.” In its first year, STEM Pathways developed a dozen 30- to 60-minute challenges and attracted an estimated 8,500 participants across Ohio. Challenges were piloted at the Global Impact STEM Academy in Springfield, where director Josh Jennings is a huge proponent. “There’s no real prescribed step-by-step procedure they follow, because that’s the important thing: The students have to solve the problem on their own,” Jennings said. “When something happens they don’t expect, it kind of blows their minds.”


STEM Pathways Challenge topics include diabetes, ergonomics, animal behavior, chemical spills, mining and bioproducts. One, the Fish Farm Challenge, was selected by the National 4-H Council and Monsanto to be the 2014 4-H Ag Innovators Experience for eight midwestern states. Leaders estimate 10,000 youth will participate in the challenge, designed to explore how to boost food production through aquaculture.

Here are some other 4-H initiatives:

  • Nearly 5,000 children and teens in Cleveland learn a lifelong appreciation of nature and understanding of natural resources through Youth Outdoors, a unique collaboration between Ohio 4-H, the City of Cleveland Division of Recreation, and Cleveland Metroparks: go.osu.edu/youthoutdoors.
  • Two urban schools, one each in Cleveland and in Cincinnati, host “4-H Agri-science in the City,” which provides hands-on classroom instruction as a complement to regular coursework, as well as afterschool and summer programs: go.osu.edu/cityagriscience.

“The whole idea of STEM is not just taking a rigorous engineering or mathematics course,” Jennings said. “STEM is a whole different process of looking at things. You present students with a problem, and they use their creativity and critical thinking skills to figure it out.”

More: ohio4h.org/STEM-Pathways


Opening doors for new research into cancer-fighting food dyes

Colorful anthocyanins offer health benefits and a natural alternative for use as food dyes. Monica Giusti's innovations could accelerate research and development in the field.

Colorful anthocyanins offer health benefits and a natural alternative for use as food dyes. Monica Giusti’s innovations could accelerate research and development in the field.

Monica Giusti’s lab budget wasn’t limitless. And the anthocyanins she studied weren’t cheap. So she made her own — slashing costs 10- to 20-fold. Now, her patented process will be commercialized by newly formed Anthocyantific LLC. Giusti is chief scientist.

Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants that also give color to most red, orange, purple and blue fruits and vegetables. Giusti is internationally known for her research on their potential as cancer-fighters and as natural food dyes.

“Most companies sell anthocyanin standards, one anthocyanin at a time. And only a small portion of the 700 anthocyanins known to exist is available as pure standards,” Giusti said. “What we produce is unique.”

The process provides a complete blend of anthocyanins from specific foods: the single primary anthocyanin from strawberries, for example, or the 15-plus anthocyanins from blueberries. Giusti hopes the new products’ availability and low cost will galvanize new research into the pigments.


  • Giusti’s anthocyanins research has garnered more than $500,000 in private industry support since 2009. The result: two patents, with five more pending.
  • Guisti was named The Ohio State University’s Early Career Innovator of the Year in 2013, and is co-editor of “Anthocyanins in Health and Disease,” the first book to summarize advances in research of anthocyanins’ role in disease prevention.
  • Giusti is a member of CAFFRE, the Center for Advanced Functional Foods Research and Entrepreneurship, which focuses on developing health-promoting functional foods and ingredients. CAFFRE combines efforts of 44 university scientists and has resulted in 250-plus collaborative research publications and a total of $18 million in support related to foods, nutrients and health between 2006–2014, including $2 million from 21 industry partners:

“Monica Giusti’s work is both cost-effective and innovative — a powerful combination that’s attractive to industry partners,”  said Melissa Kelly, licensing manager, The Ohio State University Technology Commercialization Office. “Companies are working with Ohio State not only to fund her research but to commercialize it as well.”

More: go.osu.edu/colorcodes