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Extension > Source > Spring 2014 > Meeting the challenges of today's agriculture

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Meeting the challenges of today's agriculture

Jeff Gunsolus and Christian Lilienthal

Jeff Gunsolus, Extension weed scientist, updates Christian Lilienthal on herbicide-resistance research. Lilienthal is an Extension educator in Nicollet County who informs local farmers coping with the challenge.

Modern farming is more complex than ever

Agriculture keeps advancing, adapting new technology to meet the needs of an increasingly global economy. Caring for the land, while ensuring that it continues to produce the food and energy needed for an estimated population of 9.6 billion by 2050, requires informed decisions. Extension helps agriculture producers make the best decisions based on the latest research.

Fields with ragweed and waterhemp plants, standing tall and green, remind Jeff Gunsolus of the stubborn nature of weeds. Many hoped planting genetically improved seeds would eliminate weed problems, but herbicide-resistance changed that.

"Weeds are adaptable," says Gunsolus, Extension weed scientist. "They develop genetic resistance when they are exposed to the same herbicide year after year."

Gunsolus has devoted more than 30 years to long-term research into the complexities of weed control, providing data that show farmers how and why they need to diversify strategies to keep weeds from robbing yields.

Like other Extension researchers, Gunsolus works with regional and county-based Extension educators to ensure the latest research makes its way to the farmers who produce today's crops.

"We're in a different game now," says Extension educator Christian Lilienthal. "People in agriculture can't base this year's decisions on what they did last year." Lilienthal, who lives and works in Nicollet County, works with Gunsolus and other scientists to help local growers make good decisions in real time.

Facing complex issues

Water is a significant challenge in the complex industry of agriculture. Access to it is one issue. Keeping it clean is another.

Farmers need nitrogen and other nutrients in order to have fertile soils and healthy crops. Like all business owners, they want to operate at the top of their capacity, but they also want to be good stewards of the land. So they learn strategies from Extension to reduce negative impacts while maintaining optimum yields.

Precision agriculture is one growing area, with high-tech systems identifying nutrient needs precisely, so farmers can target rather than broadcast applications. New, innovative solutions are also generating interest, like buffers and other forms of conservation drainage that absorb nitrogen before it can enter bodies of water.

"It's never certain what challenges the next year will bring farmers," says Gunsolus, "but Extension is always ready to work with farmers for the best outcome for both land and business."

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