Energy, livestock, crops linked in future farm concept

DES MOINES, Iowa — Furrowed brows, sharp dealing and skepticism are seen at many of the trade shows that thousands attend every year.

However, a display at the recent World Pork Expo in Des Moines seemed to make most farmers and their kids break into smiles.

“Cool,” said Cole Igo, a boy from Marshall, Missouri, as he looked over the Farm of the Future display.

“What’s that?” asked his sister, Ashlyn, pointing to curling lines of processing equipment that feed additives manufacturer Alltech thinks might be on the sustainable farm of 2050.

The Farm of the Future display is a big model of one possible way a farm could be designed so that it would have almost zero net carbon emissions, produce its own energy, recycle all the water it uses and create a virtuous circle in which crop and livestock production support each other and every other aspect of the farm.

It begins with solar and wind generating systems that produce all the power the farm would need. That energy is then put into crop and livestock production, which produces and uses byproducts that are used in ethanol production and other forms of fermentation.

The process ends in algae production that uses and produces energy and food products and feeds fish.

Or vice versa. Or in a bunch of different orders.

The concept of the Farm of the Future is a sustainable cycle that doesn’t have a beginning or end, but which rotates inputs and outputs to produce sustainable food products.

“It’s our vision of farming in 2050,” said Mike McNeil, Alltech’s North American trade show manager, as he spent the day talking to show-goers about the model. “In theory, nothing gets wasted here.”

Lots of farmers, kids and reporters stopped to stoop and look down on the large display, showing the same interest that dioramas attract in museums. For many, it was just fun to look down at the shiny, lights-blinking model and imagine a different sort of farm than the one with which they are familiar.

But for others, this is a hard-nosed scientific suggestion, and they want to know, and challenge, the concept.

“People that know a lot about this pepper us with questions,” said McNeil. “Sometimes they stump us.”

This particular concept of a sustainable farm depends greatly on biofermentation, which makes sense considering that Alltech was founded by an Irish expert in distilling who moved to Kentucky in 1980 to get into the bourbon whiskey business.

“He was messing around with yeast and ended up making animal feed out of it,” said McNeil.

An attractive model is fun to look at, but McNeil thinks the Farm of the Future display is also popular because it sees a positive, sustainable future for an industry that is often grappling with problems, criticisms and challenging issues.

This model sees a world in which farms produce food and energy, protect land and water and support themselves in a 2050 world of nine billion people.

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