Working around Mother Nature
By Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering
November 6, 2017

ABE student, Anne Reardon, shares her #ACESstory!

How can agricultural and biological engineers help when parts of our country are affected by natural disasters? This fall, Hurricane Harvey devastated the southern US, causing billions of dollars of damage to communities.   The news covered the hurricane extensively, but the enormous damages caused to the agriculture industry were less publicized.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 1.2 million beef cows were in the disaster region of Hurricane Harvey.  Hundreds were drowned in the flooding, and even surviving cattle have health problems from stress, not eating for days and standing in water for long periods of time.  Loss of livestock, the cost of medicine, and replacement fees for structures and farm equipment took a huge financial toll on farmers. 

The cotton crop was also predicted to be the best yield in years before Harvey damaged at least one fifth ($135 million) of the crop.  In addition, rice can’t be harvested because the fields are still too wet to bring in machinery.  And these are just a few of the problems that Hurricane Harvey caused! This devastation is a prime example of how uncontrollable events can completely disrupt the systems we have built. 

So how can we help? Let’s build more adaptable systems!  Let’s design machines that work in wetter conditions.  Let’s continue developing new technologies such as vertical farming, hydroponics, or other indoor farming methods so food production isn’t affected by flooding or heavy rain.  Let’s join biological engineers crafting synthetic meat in labs to ensure food security regardless of the cattle supply and genetically modifying crops to be able to grow in greater water levels. 

Developing and embracing new technologies will be powerful tools to combat food insecurity due to natural disasters in the future, which is exactly why agricultural and biological engineering is so important.  We need to ensure that we can feed the world regardless of the challenges Mother Nature has in store.