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    FarmWise and its weed-pulling agribot harvest $14.5M in funding / TechCrunch – 5 days ago - 23:36

Automating agriculture is a complex proposition given the number and variety of tasks involved, but a number of robotics and autonomy companies are giving it their best shot. FarmWise seems to have impressed someone — it just raised $14.5 million to continue development of its autonomous weeding vehicle.

Currently in the prototype stage, these vehicles look like giant lumbering personnel carriers or the like, but are in fact precision instruments which scan the ground for invasive weeds among the crop and carefully pluck them out.

“Each day, one FarmWise robot can weed crops to feed a medium-sized city of approximately 400,000 inhabitants,” said FarmWise CEO Sebastien Boyer in a press release announcing the latest funding round. “We are now enhancing the scale and depth of our proprietary plant-detection technology to help growers with more of their processes and on more of their crops.”

Presumably the robot was developed and demonstrated with something of a specialty in one crop or another, more as a proof of concept than anything.

Well, it seems to have proved the concept. The new $14.5 million round, led by Calibrate Ventures, is likely due to the success of these early trials. This is far from an easy problem, so going from idea to nearly market-ready in under three years is pretty impressive. Farmers love tech — if it works. And tiny issues or error rates can lead to enormous problems with the vast monoculture fields that make up the majority of U.S. farms.

The company previously took in about $5.7 million in a seed round, following its debut on Alchemist Accelerator’s demo day back in 2017 . Robots are expensive!

Hopefully the cash infusion will help propel FarmWise from prototype to commercialization, though it’s hard to imagine they could build more than a handful of the machines with that kind of money. Perhaps they’ll line up a couple big orders and build on that future revenue.

Meanwhile they’ll continue to develop the AI that powers the chunky, endearing vehicles.

“Looking ahead, our robots will increasingly act as specialized doctors for crops, monitoring individual health and adjusting targeted interventions according to a crop’s individual needs,” said Boyer. So not only will these lumbering platforms delicately remove weeds, but they’ll inspect for aphids and fungus and apply the necessary remedies.

With that kind of inspection they can make a data play later — what farmer wouldn’t want to be able to digitally inspect every plant in their fields?

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    Fish farming may be much older than we thought / ArsTechnica – 5 days ago - 16:22

Fish farming may be much older than we thought

Enlarge (credit: By Paul Hermans - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Fish farms play an important role in supplying the modern world’s massive demand for seafood—about half the fish we eat today comes from fish farms, rather than being caught in the wild. Aquaculture helps lighten the burden on wild fish populations, and farmed fish have a much smaller carbon footprint per pound than beef. (Of course, fish farms also produce waste and nutrients at concentrations that can wreak havoc on local marine ecosystems.) With all its modern relevance, and all the hopes pinned on it for the future, it’s easy to forget that fish farming is an ancient practice.

People around the world have farmed fish since at least 1500 BCE; Egyptian tomb paintings show Nile tilapia being raised in captivity, and in ancient Assyria and Rome, wealthy homes often kept fish and crustaceans in pools called vivariums—a household version of a restaurant’s lobster tank. In China, ancient writers describe raising carp in flooded rice fields starting in around 1100 BCE. But some archaeologists, like Tsuneo Nakajima of the Lake Biwa Museum in Japan and his colleagues, suggest that aquaculture may have started much earlier.

Finding fish from a farm

“Given that rice paddy fields date back to the fifth millennium BCE in China, it might be expected that carp aquaculture has a similar antiquity,” wrote Nakajima and his colleagues. But it’s hard to find archaeological evidence of fish farming; a rice paddy that once housed carp looks about the same as a rice paddy that didn’t. Nakajima and his colleagues suggest that the size of the fish people ate may offer a clue—a clue that points to people capturing and raising wild carp in channels and enclosed areas of marshes starting around 6000 BCE.

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    Pesticides: Didier Guillaume dit recevoir des "tombereaux de merde" sur les réseaux sociaux / HuffingtonPost – 5 days ago - 08:44

Pesticides: Didier Guillaume dit recevoir des "tombereaux de merde" sur les réseaux sociaux
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    The fall of coal and its pollution-linked deaths is boosting the economy / ArsTechnica – Tuesday, 10 September - 20:35

Image of a pig farm.

Enlarge / Livestock production has become one of the United States' largest sources of particulate pollution. (credit: Wikimedia Commons/Jessica Reeder )

Many economic activities create what are called "externalities": costs that aren't accounted for in their products but are paid for by society at large. Pollution is a major source of externalities, as it can lower the value of property, force people to spend money on medical costs, and even lead to early deaths.

Air pollution is estimated to have caused more than 100,000 early deaths in 2016. Most of these have come due to what are called fine particulates, which are small particles that can be readily inhaled and cause issues like stroke, heart disease, and lung ailments. So a group of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University decided to do an economic analysis of the issue for the United States. The researchers compared the costs of premature deaths from particulate pollution to the value added by the economic activity that produced the pollution to find out which polluting industries might provide a net benefit to the economy.

Their analysis showed that the plunge in coal use has caused electrical generation to shift from a net money sink to an economic positive. And that has left farming as the only major activity that generates more costs than it's worth.

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    Conférence P. Servigne / Un avenir sans pétrole?

    Timothée Jaussoin – Friday, 6 September - 21:36 edit

Le collapsologue Pablo Servigne (chercheur indépendant, auteur et conférencier) a présenté le le fruit de ses recherches gravitant autour du questionnement de notre mode de vie basé sur l’utilisation des énergies fossiles.

Une superbe #conference sur l'avenir post-pétrole. #collapsologie #agriculture #futur #petrole

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    Crops under solar panels can be a win-win / ArsTechnica – Thursday, 5 September - 20:40

"Agrivoltaics" studies like the one pictured here in Massachusetts are finding many crops that pair well with solar panels.

Enlarge / "Agrivoltaics" studies like the one pictured here in Massachusetts are finding many crops that pair well with solar panels. (credit: NREL / Flickr )

Solar panels might seem like they’re in direct competition with plants. One is catching sunlight to do photosynthesis, the other wants to take it to push electrons. Surely Highlander rules apply, and there can be only one on a plot of land, right?

In reality, it’s not a zero-sum game. Some plants will burn in direct sun, after all, and so there are plenty of food crops that would be happy to share their space with panels. And as a new study led by the University of Arizona’s Greg Barron-Gafford shows, the combination isn’t even necessarily a compromise—there are some synergies that can bring significant benefits to a solar-agriculture.

Everybody wins

Prof. Barron-Gafford et al. focused on dry areas like the American Southwest, where water for crops is limiting and things are projected to get drier. The shade provided by solar panels could lower soil surface temperatures and evaporation, the researchers thought, and vegetation could similarly keep the panels themselves a little cooler than a bare ground installation. Since solar panel efficiency drops at high temperature, that could mean more electricity generated.

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    Deadly superbug outbreak in humans linked to antibiotic spike in cows / ArsTechnica – Friday, 23 August - 21:15

Deadly superbug outbreak in humans linked to antibiotic spike in cows

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Sebastien Bozon )

A deadly outbreak of multi-drug resistant Salmonella that sickened 225 people across the US beginning in 2018 may have been spurred by a sharp rise in the use of certain antibiotics in cows a year earlier, infectious disease investigators reported this week.

From June 2018 to March of 2019, officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified an outbreak of Salmonella enterica serotype Newport. The strain was resistant to several antibiotics, most notably azithromycin—a recommended treatment for Salmonella enterica infections. Before the outbreak, azithromycin-resistance in this germ was exceedingly rare. In fact, it was only first seen in the US in 2016.

Yet in the 2018-2019 outbreak, it reached at least 225 people in 32 states. Of those sickened, at least 60 were hospitalized and two died. (Researchers didn’t have complete health data on everyone sickened in the outbreak)

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