Hand seeding innovation

I my conversation with agronomy professor Bill Raun while doing interviews for Unnaturally Delicious, he informed me of a major agricultural problem which I'd never before heard about.

He estimates that 60 percent of maize in the developing world is planted by hand. That’s more than seventy one million acres on Earth where poor, often subsistence, farmers use long sticks to poke a hole in the ground and drop in three or four kernels of corn before moving a foot or so and repeating the process again—and again and again. This is imprecise, backbreaking work, and potentially deadly.

According to Raun, many of these rural farmers have access to high-quality hybrid seeds, but the seeds have been pretreated with fungicides and insecticides. The treatments protect the vulnerable seedlings from insects and disease, but chemically treated seeds weren’t meant to be routinely handled by the farmer.

Here are a few photos he took of hand-seeding in action.

Fortunately, he's got a potential technological solution (see also his web page)

Raun again teamed up with engineers to create what he calls a GreenSeeder—a handheld device that can be loaded with seed and reliably deliver a single seed with each poke in the ground. Raun optimistically estimates the device could boost yields by 25 percent, resulting in $2 billion of extra revenue to the developing world if farmers abandoned their wooden sticks in favor of his mechanical poles.