Ag robot speeds data collection, analyses of crops as they grow2 months ago -
A new lightweight, low-cost agricultural robot could transform data collection and field scouting for agronomists, seed companies and farmers.
The TerraSentia crop phenotyping robot, developed by a team of scientists at the University of Illinois (U of I), will be featured at the 2018 Energy Innovation Summit Technology Showcase in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 14.
Traveling autonomously between crop rows, the robot measures the traits of individual plants using a variety of sensors, including cameras, transmitting the data in real time to the operator’s phone or laptop computer. A custom app and tablet computer that come with the robot enable the operator to steer the robot using virtual reality and GPS.
TerraSentia is customizable and teachable, according to the researchers, who currently are developing machine-learning algorithms to “teach” the robot to detect and identify common diseases, and to measure a growing variety of traits, such as plant and corn ear height, leaf area index and biomass.
“These robots will fundamentally change the way people are collecting and utilizing data from their fields,” said U of I agricultural and biological engineering professor Girish Chowdhary. He is leading a team of students, engineers and postdoctoral researchers in development of the robot.
At 24 pounds, TerraSentia is so lightweight that it can roll over young plants without damaging them. The 13-inch-wide robot is also compact and portable: An agronomist could easily toss it on a truck seat or in a car trunk to transport it to the field, Chowdhary said.
Automating data collection and analytics has the potential to improve the breeding pipeline by unlocking the mysteries of why plant varieties respond in very different ways to environmental conditions, said U. of I. plant biology professor Carl Bernacchi, one of the scientists collaborating on the project.
Data collected by the crop-scouting robot could help plant breeders identify the genetic lineages likely to produce the best quality and highest yields in specific locations, Bernacchi said.
He and Stephen P. Long, a Stanley O. Ikenberry Endowed Chair and the Gutgsell Endowed University Professor of Crop Sciences and Plant Biology at Illinois, helped determine which plant characteristics were important for the robot to measure.
“It will be transformative for growers to be able to measure every single plant in the field in a short period of time,” Bernacchi said. “Crop breeders may want to grow thousands of different genotypes, all slightly different from one another, and measure each plant quickly. That’s not possible right now unless you have an army of people – and that costs a lot of time and money and is a very subjective process.
“A robot or swarm of robots could go into a field and do the same types of things that people are doing manually right now, but in a much more objective, faster and less expensive way,” Bernacchi said.
TerraSentia fills “a big gap in the current agricultural equipment market” between massive machinery that cultivates or sprays many acres quickly and human workers who can perform tasks requiring precision but move much more slowly, Chowdhary said.
“There’s a big market for these robots not only in the U.S., where agriculture is a profitable business, but also in developing countries such as Brazil and India, where subsistence farmers struggle with extreme weather conditions such as monsoons and harsh sunlight, along with weeds and pests,” Chowdhary said.
As part of a phased introduction process, several major seed companies, large U.S. universities and overseas partners are field testing 20 of the TerraSentia robots this spring through an early adopter program. Chowdhary said the robot is expected to become available to farmers in about three years, with some models costing less than $5,000.
The robot is being made available to crop scientists and commercial crop breeders for the 2018 breeding season through EarthSense Inc., a startup company that Chowdhary co-founded with Chinmay P. Soman.
A former National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the university, Soman is the chief executive officer of EarthSense, which is based at the U of I Research Park and comprises a growing team of engineers and computer scientists.
Source: University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
Lyster, Whiting Honoured by Alberta Seed Growers3 months ago -
The Alberta Seed Growers honoured two individuals at their recent annual general meeting in Banff, Alta.
Norm Lyster was presented the Honorary Life Award in recognition of his valuable service to the seed industry in Alberta.
Lyster attended his first CSGA AGM in Banff as a seven-year-old in 1961 and has been involved with the Canadian Seed Growers in an official capacity since 1976.
He earned a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, majoring in agricultural economics, from the University of Alberta, where his thesis focused on market risk and the maturing risk reduction market for feed pea producers. He also obtained an MSc Ag. in 1999, majoring in marketing and trade, under a fellowship from the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange.
Lyster has worked as owner, operator and manager of Lyster Farms Ltd. Integrated Pedigreed seed production, processing and sales since the 1980s. He is a CSGA recognized Select and Foundation Grower, and accredited grader and operator with the Canadian Seed Institute.
Lyster’s involvement in the Alberta and Canadian Seed Growers has been long-running and multi-faceted. He was elected a provincial director of the Alberta branch of the CSGA in 1999 and served as national representative from 2003-2014. He was then elected president of the CSGA and served from 2014 to 2016 in that capacity. He is currently the past president of the organization.
This year, Trent Whiting was presented with the Bill Witbeck Outstanding Service Award, for his outstanding contributions to pedigreed seed production.
Whiting, Alberta/B.C. marketing representative with SeCan, has a degree in agriculture from the University of Alberta. For over 25 years, he has worked closely with seed growers in the seed industry. He started his seed career in Edmonton with UGG Forage and Special Crops in a production role. He remained with UGG/ Proven Seed until 2007, then a short time with BrettYoung before joining SeCan in the spring of 2008.
Whiting is a coach to his friends, his members at SeCan and his competitors in the industry – he has a drive to make all those around him better, and puts the needs of his members and their customers ahead of his own interests.
In his role at SeCan, Whiting helps his members and their customers choose the best products for their farms – this may not always be a SeCan product and this is noted and appreciated by all. Recently, Whiting has taken on the added responsibility of stock seed production at SeCan in the west.
Congratulations to Norm and Trent for their past and on-going contributions toward a strong seed industry in Alberta.
DowDuPont Agriculture Division To Become Corteva Agriscience3 months ago -
The agriculture division of DowDuPont will be known as Corteva Agriscience one it is spun-off, which is expected to happen by June 1, 2019. The name is derived from a combination of words meaning “heart” and “nature”.
Corteva Agriscience brings together DuPont Crop Protection, DuPont Pioneer and Dow AgroSciences to create a standalone agriculture company with positions in seed technologies, crop protection and digital agriculture.
In addition to announcing the corporate name, the intended agriculture company unveiled the Corteva Agriscience brand identity and logo today (www.corteva.com) at Commodity Classic, the largest farmer-led convention and trade show in the United States.
The corporate headquarters for the intended company will be located in Wilmington, Delaware, and will include key corporate support functions. Sites in Johnston, Iowa, and Indianapolis, Indiana, will serve as global business centers, with leadership of business lines, business support functions, R&D, global supply chain, and sales and marketing capabilities concentrated in the two Midwest locations.
DowDuPont will support the new brand name through a series of recognition events between now and the time the division becomes an independent company.
Alberta Seed Processors announce Seed Smart scholarship winners3 months ago -
The Alberta Seed Processors board of directors announced the first-ever winners of the Seed Smart scholarship fund designed to recognize outstanding young leaders in the agricultural world.
Cole Huppertz, 20, (Lakeland College) and Kyle Wheeler, 20, (University of Alberta) are the first recipients of the $1,000 awards. This scholarship is awarded annually to deserving applicants enrolled in a full-time, agriculture-related program at an accredited post-secondary institution in Canada – with preference given to those studying in Alberta.
“I would like to thank Cole and Kyle for submitting their winning applications,” said Hector Ouellette, Alberta Seed Processors’ president. “These two have demonstrated their dedication to making a difference in agriculture and in their communities and we are proud to help make their road a bit easier.”
The Alberta Seed Processors are a network of seed and grain processing professionals focused on providing Alberta farmers, seed growers, and the agriculture industry with value-added services to support the growth of the local and global agriculture economy. The Association would like to congratulate both Huppertz and Wheeler on their outstanding applications and their bright futures in the agricultural industry.
“I am very fortunate to receive this scholarship. This will be put towards my education at Lakeland and help me to pursue a career in the agriculture industry,” said Huppertz.
“I am very excited to have won the SEED SMART Scholarship. This will go a long way to helping pay for my schooling and my athletics. I am grateful for the opportunities that the money will grant me, and thankful that such an opportunity is provided by all of you for me,” added Wheeler.
The deadline for this year’s award is October 15, 2018. The application form and further instructions for potential candidates will be available in the coming months at www.seedsmart.ca.
Alberta Seed Processors announce new president3 months ago -
The Alberta Seed Processors’ provincial board of directors are pleased to announce that Hector Ouellette has been elected as the new president of the organization.
Ouellette, who has been a part of the board of directors for 14 years in the Falher Co-operative Seed Cleaning Plant in Falher, Alberta, has been farming near Girouxville for over 30 years. He also owned a small trucking company in the oil and gas sector.
“I am very honoured to be in this role representing Alberta’s seed processors,” Ouellette said. “I look forward to bringing some new ideas to the table and contributing towards the bright future of our industry.”
Ouellette was originally elected to the board in January 2016 to represent region seven, located in Northwest Alberta, which encompasses 14 plants in the Peace Country, including two plants located in B.C.
The provincial board would like to extend a special thanks to past president David Bishop, who has stepped aside to allow for a new voice to represent the association. Dave will also move to a new role as vice-president of Alberta Barley.
“I have never been more optimistic about the direction of this organization,” Bishop said. “I would also like to thank the Association’s members for their confidence and support in me over these past six years.”
Alberta’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 20183 months ago -
More than 60 people gathered to honour fourth generation farmers Craig and Jinel Ference of Double F Farms located at Kirriemuir as Alberta’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2018. The winners were announced at the Alberta regional event held at the Pomeroy Inn & Suites in Olds, Alta. on Feb. 9.
After receiving university degrees, in agriculture business for Craig and education for Jinel, they returned to take on the responsibilities of full-time farming in 2004 and today crop 10,000 acres, manage an 8,000 head feedlot and 4,000 mother cows, as well as a number of custom farming contracts. Their goal today continues to be one of creating a diverse business that involves many agriculture sectors.
As caretakers of the land, Craig and Jinel focus on improving the land for future generations by increasing organic matter from one to four per cent. New technology in product and equipment advancements continues to bring change to their farming techniques, both in Alberta and their new expanded operation in Biggar, Sask.
Two other couples were honoured at the 2018 regional event:
- Craig and Celeste Christensen, Parflesh Farms, Standard, Alta.;
- Roelof and Mary VanBenthem, VanBenthem Dairy, Red Deer County, Alta.
Celebrating 38 years, Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers’ program is an annual competition to recognize farmers that exemplify excellence in their profession and promote the tremendous contribution of agriculture. Open to participants 18 to 39 years of age, making the majority of income from on-farm sources, participants are selected from seven regions across Canada, with two national winners chosen each year. The program is sponsored nationally by CIBC, John Deere, Bayer, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada through Growing Forward 2, a federal, provincial and territorial initiative. The national media sponsor is Annex Business Media, and the program is supported nationally by AdFarm, BDO and Farm Management Canada.
Canada’s Outstanding Young Farmers for 2018 will be chosen at the National Event in Winnipeg, Man. from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3, 2018.
Industry Taking Action on Pollinators3 months ago -
Pollinator protection has been a hot-button issue in Canada for the last five years. We look at some of the efforts in this country to protect pollinators and what the implications of them could be for the seed sector.
Recent headlines regarding overwintering of honeybees in Canada and the rest of North America over the past decade have often not been good. Annual honeybee colony losses have averaged 25.03 per cent in Canada since 2007, while the rate in the U.S. was slightly higher at 28.4 per cent.
That’s why a recent report out of the U.S. was welcomed as good news by members of the agricultural sectors and scientific communities on both sides of the border. In May 2017, the Bee Informed Partnership (BIP), in collaboration with the Apiary Inspectors of America (AIA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), announced 21.1 per cent of managed colonies in the U.S. were lost over the winter of 2016-17. That number represents an improvement of 5.8 per cent over the previous winter and is well below the nation’s average during the past decade.
There is reason for optimism north of the border. According to the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA), the number of overwintering colony losses in Canada the past two years was well below the national average for the past decade (16.8 per cent in 2015-16 and 16.4 per cent in 2014-15).
“I think the fact the overwintering losses continue to decline shows that the cooperative working practices that have been emphasized the last few years are working, that beekeepers are stepping up their management on managing health-related issues with bees and growers are starting to modify their practices, understanding they have to use agronomic practices that help ensure a healthy environment for pollinators as well,” says Calgary-based Paul Thiel, vice-president of product development and regulatory science for the Crop Science Division of Bayer in Canada.
“Here in Canada, we’re very reliant on honeybees for our InVigor hybrid canola seed production. It’s essential for our business and for our customers — this hybrid canola could not be grown without the pollination service they provide.”
Several efforts are currently underway in this country to help protect honeybees and other pollinators such as bumblebees, and butterflies.
From Emotion to Science
Stephen Denys is director of business management for Maizex Seeds and a long-time member of the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA). He’s been following the issue of pollinator health closely since the debate over honeybee losses and their connection to the use of neonicotinoids flared up five years ago.
Denys says he’s been encouraged by the efforts made by the ag industry, government and other groups to promote pollinator health and protect natural habitats. Even more encouraging, he says, is the fact that the debate over treatment methods appears to be shifting away from being emotion-driven to science-based.
“The concern from the seed industry is that we’ve been successful at agriculture on this continent and in Western civilization because we’ve always taken a scientific approach to things,” says Denys, a former president of the CSTA.
“We don’t make decisions emotionally — we look at the science and then [use that] to make a decision. If the science showed you’ve got a real issue and you’ve got to make a change, farmers here have always adapted to that change and industry has adapted to that change.”
Denys says one of the things the seed industry needs to do is work together to better educate the public about what it has accomplished to date and “walk them through the evolution of why we’re doing the things we’re doing today.”
New Products in the Pipeline
Bayer has teamed up with several industry partners and organizations as part of the Bees Matter initiative. The outreach program aims to share information on honeybee health in Canada with the Canadian public and raise awareness with everyone from agricultural producers to backyard gardeners about practices they can adopt to ensure pollinator health. Bayer is also part of a bee health roundtable group spearheaded by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada that has been tasked with identifying and addressing risks and opportunities related to bee health.
One of the projects the company is involved with that will be of interest to the seed sector is the creation of a new fluency agent for negative pressure air seeders. In the past, a mixture of talc and graphite was used to expedite the movement of corn and other seed as it was vacuumed through the seeder. The wax-based fluency agent means there is far less dust created when treated seed exits the seeder.
“There’s been a significant reduction in the creation of any dust that might contain the seed treatment compound,” Thiel says. “It’s been effective and the growers have adopted it. They’re very interested in maintaining the biodiversity and the natural surroundings of their farms.”
Bayer is also working on a new miticide designed to help beekeepers control the Varroa mite, which has been referred to as the vampire of the honeybee industry. There are currently few ways to control the deadly parasite, which originated in Asia. Research has indicated the strips can control as much as 95 per cent of mites.
“It will give a rotational option to beekeepers so they are not as reliant on too few compounds and help to reduce the potential for resistance development in the Varroa mite population,” Thiel says.
While pollinators have been making plenty of news, knowledge of their habits and habitats here in Canada remains lacking.
Nigel Raine, a pollinator expert at the University of Guelph and Rebanks family chair in pollinator conservation, is seeking to change that. Raine is leading a team of researchers that will be monitoring pollinator activity at 50 different locations throughout the province of Ontario as part of a multi-year study that began in 2016. It’s believed to be the first time a study of this kind has been conducted on such a large scale anywhere in Canada.
“What we’re hoping to get is a broader picture of the distribution of wild pollinator species and how they’re related to different habitat types and different land use categories. We’re trying to include everything from provincial parks and conservation areas through to intensive agriculture and even some urban sites,” Raine says.
“The main aim the first few years is to get a baseline to see which species are where. If we can see areas where they have very healthy populations, we can look at the types of habitats in that area and we can say this is the sort of matrix that we want to look at [being part of the landscape] on a scale that pollinators need.”
One of the biggest challenges with the study, according to Raine, is the large number of different pollinators that call Canada home. There are more than 850 species of bees in this country, with most of them being solitary ground-dwellers.
Raine says the study has potential implications for the agriculture industry in not only Ontario but the rest of the country, since three-quarters of the leading food crops are pollinated by some form of animal. The data from the study could eventually help determine where pollinator habitats need to be located and how widely they should be distributed.
As for the seed sector, Raine says the study could lead to more integration with industry in terms of how plants, particularly native plants, are sourced to create the mixes for habitats that will support pollinators and wildlife in general. It could also increase demand for seed required to produce pollinator-friendly habitats in some cases, he adds.
Raising Public Awareness
Pollinator Partnership Canada (PPC) is a registered non-profit that does mission-based work across the country aimed at promoting and protecting pollinators and their ecosystems. It’s comprised of more than 140 stakeholder organizations including university faculty and researchers, farmers, corporate agriculture, seed producers and corporations with an environmental ethics platform.
It’s one of the partners behind the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, a campaign to register one million public and private spaces as pollinator habitats. It’s also created a series of 15 regional guides designed to help gardeners, farmers and land managers select plants for pollinator-friendly habitats.
The partnership has also been one of the driving forces behind the creation of a series of so-called bee hotels across the country. The project was started in 2014 in conjunction with the Fairmont hotel chain to build sustainable resting places, or ‘hotels’, for solitary bees.
PPC research director Vicki Wojcik says it’s difficult to qualify the impact the hotels are having on bee populations. However, she says the project has had a huge impact in terms of raising awareness regarding the importance of pollinator health.
“We often have more of an opportunity to get people interested in the concept within a more urbanized context. Eventually, over time, the idea does take hold,” she says.
The partnership has also teamed with Bayer and the University of Guelph to look at how cover crops can be used to enhance pollinator nutrition. “What this research study is trying to see is what kind of plant-pollinator interaction we see with cover crops so that we can give farmers more tools,” Wojcik says.
DowDuPont Agriculture Division Announces New Premium Seed Brand3 months ago -
DowDuPont Agriculture Division is launching a new premium global seed brand — Brevant — in Canada, Latin America and select European countries in 2018.
The Brevant brand will replace the Dow Seeds brand over the coming months following the merger of Dow and DuPont. In Brazil, it will replace the Coodetec and Biogene brand products.
The global launch of the Brevant brand was unveiled in Cascavel, Brazil, at the Show Rural Coopavel (Farm Show) one of the region’s most important farm shows.
Should the Seed Sector Start from Scratch?4 months ago -
The new Seed Synergy green paper lays out a proposed vision for a next-generation Canadian seed system.
They key to a successful 21st-century Canadian seed industry is a modernized seed system that effectively attracts investment, fosters innovation, and delivers new and tailored seed traits to customers efficiently.
That’s according to the new green paper issued by the Seed Synergy Collaboration Project Team, which is made up of members of our industry six associations and is working to develop a next-generation seed system for the country via the Seed Synergy project.
First announced in 2016, the Seed Synergy project is being undertaken by all six associations that make up the seed industry — Canadian Seed Institute, CropLife Canada, Canadian Seed Growers’ Association, Canadian Seed Trade Association, Commercial Seed Analysts Association of Canada, and the Canadian Plant Technology Agency.
The project kicked into full gear after a series of annual meetings in 2017, at which the boards of all six associations gathered to discuss the project and how to move forward.
According to the new green paper — the precursor to a Seed Synergy white paper to be released in the coming months — Canada’s seed system is in danger of imploding due to a number of factors, among them the fact that our system is an old and arguably out-dated one.
In addition, it argues that while Canada has an excellent national system assuring and tracing the genetic identity and origin of seed in the marketplace, seed sold as common seed does not provide these benefits, nor contribute directly to the seed system.
These factors, the green paper says, limit both domestic and export market-driven growth for Canadian producers, and if not addressed will place Canada at a productivity disadvantage relative to its international competitors.
As a result, the green paper argues that a revamped seed system is needed in Canada, one that delivers:
- Improved profitability, which will in turn stimulate the investment needed to deliver a steady stream of new product innovation and growth;
- A more efficient governance model for the seed system, where stakeholder organizations work in tight collaboration with each other and government in potentially new configurations;
- Regulations that make sense and that are easier to understand, navigate, and comply with;
- A system that better adapts to change, and responds and adjusts to sector needs on an ongoing basis;
- A competitive environment that has space for businesses of all sizes to be successful and competitive, not just the biggest players with the most resources.
“In this context, the case for change is clear. To realize its full potential, Canada needs to rethink the core policies, legislative and regulatory frameworks, and associated institutional arrangements that make up the seed system of today. The rules and practices simply have to change, to deliver a more responsive, transparent, and customer-focused system, and to make Canada an attractive investment market for both large and small businesses.”
The Seed Synergy project team is proposing major seed industry reforms in the areas of:
- Research & Development: the green paper proposes a new, risk-based assessment model that sets regulatory requirements in proportion to the projected risk of new products. “Government will continue to lead oversight of the system, and government-sectoral coordination needs to be enhanced to define regulatory standards that make sense.”
- Market Entry and Commercialization: proposes replacing the current variety registration and variety eligibility for certification regimes with an integrated system, anchored in a product profile for all approved seed products, containing all regulatory and commercial information relevant to that product in one, easily accessible place or virtual space, with access to confidential business information about a product limited to those granted explicit access to it.
- Production and processing: proposes a modernized pedigreed seed system that will facilitate an increase in pedigreed seed use and a reduction in incentives for common seed production, as new high-performing protected varieties replace older ones. “We propose an expansion of options for producing seed under comprehensive quality management systems that do not require third-party crop inspections but which are backed by third-party audit frameworks.”
- Sales and distribution: proposes a universal seed lot listing system, where seed for sale is listed along with at least a declaration of identity and quality.
It also proposes a new value creation model that enables technology transfer and innovation and drives economic growth, and which features a seed sale listing system that brings increased transparency and utility to seed sales across the country, and allows for more efficient protections of intellectual property rights and commercial transactions.
Finally, the green paper proposes improving governance of the seed system overall to sustain these reforms, and to better coordinate priorities across the seed and agricultural sectors. It suggests creating an “anchoring organization” that would perform many of the functions proposed herein.
“This could take the form of a single organization or a formal network of organizations or parts thereof,” the paper says.
To read the full green paper, visit http://seedgrowers.ca/wp-content/uploads/Synergy-Green-Paper-5.3.pdf
Muendel Honoured with Alberta Pulse Industry Innovator Award4 months ago -
The Alberta Pulse Growers (APG) presented the fourth annual Alberta Pulse Industry Innovator Award to Dr. Hans-Henning Muendel, who was instrumental in developing numerous bean cultivars for Alberta growers.
“Each year, APG recognizes a person or organization whose progressive thinking and tireless efforts helped build Alberta’s pulse industry into the flourishing sector that it is today,” said APG Chair D’Arcy Hilgartner. “Dr. Muendel dedicated his career to developing the dry bean cultivars that now set the standard for small red, black, pinto and great northern cultivars in Western Canada. He truly deserves to receive the Alberta Pulse Industry Innovator Award for his many contributions.”
In 1996, there weren’t any dry bean cultivars being grown in Western Canada that had been bred in this region. Over the next 11 years, as the senior research scientist at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Research Centre in Lethbridge, Muendel and his team developed 14 dry bean cultivars in seven bean classes, and co-developed one other new bean cultivar. Muendel’s bean breeding program concentrated on producing early maturing, upright bean cultivars that are well-suited to the short growing seasons of southern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Many of the dry bean cultivars from Muendel’s program also had improved resistance to white mould while maintaining high yield and quality. Muendel also served as an ex-officio director for Alberta Pulse Growers.
Zone 1 Director Rodney Volk had high praise for Muendel’s contributions to the pulse industry that continue to benefit dry bean growers like himself.
“Dr. Muendel was instrumental in establishing the breeding program that developed dry bean cultivars specific to southern Alberta growing conditions,” Volk said. “The success of dry bean production in southern Alberta today can be largely credited to his program’s development of local varieties with improved standability and disease resistance. Many of today’s pinto and great northern varieties still have a direct connection to the lines Dr. Muendel developed.”
Muendel said that he was honoured to learn that he was chosen as the recipient of the fourth annual Industry Innovator Award: “It has been 10 years since I retired, and now – with our bean varieties having spread throughout the Alberta dry bean growing area – on behalf of my breeding team, it is such an honour to accept this award.”
The Alberta Pulse Growers Commission represents 6,000 growers of field pea, dry bean, lentil, chickpea, faba bean and soybean in Alberta. Our vision is to have Alberta pulses recognized by consumers as environmentally friendly, healthy, nutritious, and recognized by all producers as being an essential element in a sustainable cropping system.