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Strawberry fields forever, with some help from mathematicians! – Science Nation

Strawberry fields forever, with some help from mathematicians! – Science Nation


♫MUSIC♫ MILES O’BRIEN: In the strawberry and raspberry capital of California, grower John Eiskamp wants the crops in his fields to not just grow, but thrive. And that can be a challenge – especially with water here in short supply. So, he’s working with some pro’s. Mathematicians, actually. KATHLEEN FOWLER: A person’s going to want to try to make as much profit as possible using the least amount of water while meeting the demands from the market. And so, as mathematicians, one of the things we were hoping to offer was a different way of looking at a problem. What can we plant? What’s the rotation strategy? Those are the things we hope to use mathematical approaches and algorithms to analyze. This is also a snapshot of prices and things like that. MILES O’BRIEN: With support from the National Science Foundation, Mathematicians Kathleen Fowler and Lea Jenkins head up a team that’s tackling the problem of water use in the Pajaro Valley. It’s part of their work with the American Institute of Mathematics, or AIM. ESTELLE BASOR: A lot of good mathematics when people come together and have different points of view and work together. MILES O’BRIEN: AIM’s Estelle Basor grew up in a farming family. ESTELLE BASOR: I’m not sure that – you know – a lot of public actually realizes the risks involved. So, if we can just help smooth out some of the decision-making process, help solve a few of the problems that the growers might have, I think it’s a really good step forward. AIM GROUP: We call it the virtual farm model… MILES O’BRIEN: The team is sharing its findings at the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau. They create models to help growers pinpoint which crops to plant where – factoring in growing cycles, costs, and groundwater levels. JOHN EISKAMP: As the irrigation cycle is ongoing, you can see the water move through the soil profile and know that when it’s reaching the point where it’s going to go beyond the root zone that it’s the time to turn the water off. MILES O’BRIEN: AIM is putting math to work tackling a broad range of real-world problems…from understanding headaches…modeling the climate…to making medical imaging more accurate. And their agricultural work will benefit farmers far beyond these berry fields. LEA JENKINS: So, those are very abstract frameworks that we think have broad application. It might be a berry farm here, but it might be a wheat farm in the Midwest, and it might be a soy bean farm or a corn farm in the Southeast. MILES O’BRIEN: Balancing limited water resources with sound farming practices – that’s an equation that really adds up! For Science Nation, I’m Miles O’Brien.

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