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Recognizing the needs of the modern farmer, The Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences,  has called together a task force dedicated to engaging multiple departments in digital agriculture.

Cornell Brand Communications File Photo

The digital ag initiative refers to using data systems to optimize food production and, finding technological solutions for farming problems. Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture (CIDA) is an interdisciplinary team dedicated to improving food production through the use of robotics and data collection. Launched in 2018, CIDA represents Cornell’s role in this burgeoning field according to Provost Michael Kotlikoff. .

“Digital agriculture continues to blossom rapidly across academic and research fields, and there is no university as uniquely positioned as Cornell to help meet the world’s food system needs,” Provost Kotlikoff said in a Cornell Chronicle article.

While this initiative is relatively new, the idea of using big data and technology within our food system is not. Precision agriculture has been on the rise, including innovations like drone flyovers to manage cropping systems, and microchipped livestock to monitor herd health. Led by Susan McCouch, Ph.D. ’90, CIDA is a way to organize, fund, and increase participation in digital agriculture making it a university-wide interdisciplinary team.

These efforts help bridge the gap between researchers and practitioners, bringing technological solutions to farmers in the area. Practices developed by the CIDA team are already being trialed on the Musgrave Research Farm in Aurora, NY. With large scale collaboration comes large scale innovation. Read the full article on Cornell CALS or the Cornell Chronicle.

To kick off season 3 of the Cornell Cooperative Extension podcast, “Extension Out Loud,” CALS Associate Dean of Governmental and Community Relations, Julie Suarez joins the show to talk through the new 2018 farm bill. The bill, renewed every five years, is the main tool the federal government uses to regulate food and agricultural policy. Among other things, this years bill has important provisions regarding commercial hemp, urban agriculture, and an increased research budget, especially in the organic sector.

“It was a very pleasant surprise that the farm bill did effectively fully legalize the growth and sale of industrial hemp both within states that have existing permitted programs and also allows for the sale of products across state lines,” Suarez said. “New York, I think, is much better poised than many states in terms of meeting the economic growth potential of this newly authorized crop.”

Despite the government shutdown, Suarez is optimistic about the bill.

“I’m excited for the first time in my career, to actually see the federal government increase their investment in research.”

Listen to “Extension Out Loud” and hear Julie talk about the implications of the bill, Cornell’s role in the new hemp industry, and continued innovation in the farming community. 

Have you thought about switching to a biofertilizer? Full spectrum biofertilizers like “Super Magro” have simple ingredients and can prevent yield loss. Through plant nutrition, biofertilizers reduce disease, pest, and physiological stress, to maximize your crops’ performance. After brewing the base recipe, Super Magro can be tailored by adding specific mineral salts to fit your needs.

Cornell Small Farms’ own Shaun Bluethenthal, an agronomist and research farmer describes the process of how to make Super Magro biofertilizer.

Super Magro was conceived in Latin America during the 1980s by farmer Delvino Magro with support from professor Sabastiao Pinheiro of the Juquira Candiru Foundation, in Rio Do Sul, Brazil. The Super Magro formula was intentionally released without patent or intellectual property claims as an empowerment tool for independent farmers.

The base formula for Super Magro combines seven key components, which ferment over four days. The result is a nutrient-rich liquid, complete with organic and amino acids, and essential minerals in plant-available form.

Base Formula*  

  •  Untreated water
  •  Fresh cow dung
  •  Molasses
  •  Whey (or milk)
  •  S. cerevisiae (yeast)
  •  Wood ash
  •  Rockdust

*see supporting documents for complete formula and schedule

The beauty of this recipe, and biofertilizers in general, is that they harness naturally occurring microbial processes and use them to convert essential mineral ingredients into available plant nutrients. Specialized rumen-microbes, delivered via the cow dung, use the readily available sugars in the molasses to perform anaerobic fermentation. After four days of fermentation, context-specific salts can be added to the mixture. Super Magro uses nine specific salts, each of which plays critical roles in plant health, to create a broad-spectrum complement of essential minerals.

Now that you have an understanding of the mechanisms behind this type of biofertilizer production, you can tailor-make your own fertilizers specific to the needs and stages of growth of your crops.

Since the recipe is scalable and requires no outside energy source for its manufacture, it can be a great fertilizer option for small farms, homesteads, and even urban farmers. During this type of biofertilizer process, gasses expelled through the air-lock during the fermentation process have no detectable odor. Also, at the completion of a successful fermentation, the end product no longer has a raw manure smell. This bonus is especially useful for farmers and growers that have neighbors within close proximity.

In addition to its robust nutritional profile, Super Magro is also a cost-effective alternative ( > $2.50 per acre) to commercial fertilizers. Some farmers may already have many of the ingredients on hand. Even if you don’t, the ingredients are common enough that they are readily available and inexpensive.

Read more about Super Magro at:


Happy fertilizing!

In December 2018, Hello Homestead, an online resource for beginning farmers and homesteaders, published an article discussing crop options for first-time farmers. Within the article, various experts are quoted giving their advice about what to grow, and how to get started. Among these experts, Small Farms Program’s own Erica Ferney was referenced several times. Erica, who manages online courses, recommended garlic or onions as a hardy crop and reminded beginning farmers not to skimp on seeds.

Read the full article to see what the other experts said, and what they think the best crop is for first-time growers.

The Best Crops For First-Time Growers, Hello Homestead, December 11, 2018