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There are plenty of challenges facing agriculture, but Todd DuMond of DuMond Farms in the town of Fleming is hoping to find solutions to some of those problems. 

DuMond Farms may be best known in the Cayuga County area as a major grower and processor of soybeans, and in recent years, DuMond has been working on a major expansion plan for the processing business.

But DuMond, who has master's and bachelor's degrees in engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is also diving into the science of growing crops.

DuMond launched a nonprofit organization, the Advanced Ag Alliance, that aims to provide precision agriculture research to farmers in the Northeast. One of the goals of the nonprofit is to close a gap in research available, especially with the variability of soil in New York and the rest of the region. 

What DuMond has found is that a lot of the precision agriculture is done in the Midwest, where there is generally less variability in the soils. That's not typically the case for farms in the Northeast. DuMond Farms, for example, has 13 different soil types. 

"Optimizing production on that is very challenging," DuMond said in an interview with The Citizen. 

What the Advanced Ag Alliance is striving for is the development of an algorithm that could determine which soil will produce the best results for certain crops. DuMond used the example of corn planted side by side in a field. Traditional testing may show little to no effect from one soil variety to the other. But further analysis shows there is "tremendous variability," DuMond explained. 

"We're missing out on a lot of that data through this traditional testing process," he added. 

To produce better results in crop production, DuMond said decisions on planting are based on soil properties since the soil is a consistent factor. Other factors, such as heat and rainfall, are volatile. But they can better understand the variability in the soil and determine which soil variety is best for a certain crop. 

Managing soil health is a priority, too. And the research aims to balance the needs of farms with a desire to be good environmental stewards. 

DuMond has also been engaged in learning how cover crops can improve soil conditions and contribute to the success of other crops. He said the farm has become a cover crop dealer, in part, to strengthen their awareness and understanding of cover crops. 

Cover crops are mainly used for soil fertility or to prevent soil erosion. From DuMond's perspective, cover crops can produce certain nutrients in the soil taht improve the yield for the following year's crop. 

As an example, he mentioned the planting of rapeseed. Planting one to two pounds of rapeseed per acre as a cover crop will provide all of the sulfur a corn crop will need the next year, DuMond said. 

There is other research and new technologies being used by DuMond Farms. DuMond said they utilize individual row control to optimize growing. The farm's planter is equipped with a 20-inch resolution screen and controls to limit the amounts of seeds dropped and the amount of fertilizer used. There is never more than 10 inches of overlap, according to DuMond. 

The farm's sprayer operates the same way. There is 20-inch control for the application of herbicides and pesticides. 

DuMond is optimistic about his farm's future outlook. But he acknowledged there are challenges. He believes climate change has an impact. What climate change means to others could be different, but he said it produces more volatility. 

"It's changing and it changes every year," he said. "I say our weather volatility is on the rise. The challenge of producing crops is growing."

That's why he highlighted the research component and the founding of the Advanced Ag Alliance. 

"If I can maintain a better soil structure, I can moderate that weather variability," he said. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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