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New virtual reality video tells soil health story from every angle

As interest grows in soil health and its potential to optimize farming, the Soil Health Partnership (SHP) has developed a new tool to immerse the inquisitive. Partnering with StoryUP, the nonprofit ag group has produced a “virtual reality” video that will allow viewers to visit a farm enrolled in SHP and experience a Virtual Field Day.

An initiative of the National Corn Growers Association, the Soil Health Partnership is a data-driven program working to quantify the benefits of practices that support soil health from an economic as well as environmental standpoint. The Soil Health Partnership is a farmer-led initiative that fosters transformation in agriculture through improved soil health, benefiting both farmer profitability and the environment. With more than 100 working farms enrolled in 12 states, the SHP tests, measures and advances progressive farm management practices that will enhance sustainability and farm economics for generations to come. SHP brings together diverse partners to work towards common goals.

“One of our most powerful assets is our enrolled farmers sharing their stories and knowledge with others,” said Nick Goeser, NCGA Vice President of Production and Sustainability. “This video format allows viewers to transport themselves to a farm and learn from the farmer as if they are standing right there with him at a field day. We are all about innovation, and that spirit extends to our communications program.”

Virtual reality is 360-degree, 3D video or computer-generated environments viewed with special goggles where the user can see in all directions. After giving some attendees of the Soil Health Summit a preview in January, the SHP will officially launch the video, called “New Frontier in Agriculture,” at the Commodity Classic conference and tradeshow, Feb. 27 – March 1 in Anaheim, Calif. Attendees can stop by the SHP booth (#2739) to experience the video on a headset, and enter into a drawing for a prize.

The 4-minute experience, viewed in a Samsung GearVR headset, places the user in close proximity to farmers and SHP staff on Tim Smith’s farm in Eagle Grove, Iowa. Smith, enrolled with SHP since 2014, demonstrates how he sets up strip-till equipment (a less intensive form of tillage), discusses why soil health matters to him and explains the benefits he’s experienced.

“The most obvious benefits to using cover crops, strip-till or no-till on my farm are lack of erosion…and less ephemeral gullies in my fields,” Smith said in the video. “When we get heavy rainfalls I’m not so concerned about washouts.”

The SHP will have a professional goggle at Commodity Classic for viewing, but the video is available to watch with any VR headset, including cardboard versions handed out at the SHP booth. To watch it in a headset:

  • Download the YouTube app for iPhone or Android
  • Play the video (on the SHP YouTube Channel)
  • Turn phone horizontal
  • Click the Google Cardboard icon on the lower right side of the screen
  • Phone will split into two screens
  • Place horizontal phone in a VR headset.

For regular viewing, the video is available on the SHP YouTube Channel, where it is best viewed in the Google Chrome browser, which provides arrows allowing the user to turn the viewpoint.

At least a ten-year scientific program administered by the National Corn Growers Association, the SHP’s vision is driven by initial and continuing funding and guidance from NCGA, Monsanto, the Walton Family Foundation, the Midwest Row Crop Collaborative, General Mills, the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research and USDA, with technical support from The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund. For more, visit soilhealthpartnership.org.


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