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How farmers use tech to tend the fields of the future

In the old days, farmers kept track of their crops’ vital stats in logbooks and on whiteboards — but in the new days, that’s not going to cut it.

“Shun analog,” said Steve Mantle, the founder and CEO of Innov8 Ag Solutions, a farm management venture that’s headquartered in Walla Walla, Wash. “Digital first. If a grower is still putting things in logbooks, they have to shift to it.”

Mantle and other experts and entrepreneurs surveyed the state of agricultural tech today during Washington State University’s Digital Agriculture Summit — and it’s clear that the field is in a state of flux.

The panelists gave a shout-out to technologies ranging from sensor-equipped drones and 5G connectivity to robotic harvesters and artificial intelligence. But at the same time, some in the virtual audience complained about not being able to get even a 4G signal down on the farm.

Much more needs to be done to bring the agricultural data revolution to full fruition, said Kurt Steck, managing general partner of the 5G Open Innovation Lab, based in Bellevue, Wash.

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There’s a new twist in the tale of tribal tobacco

Tobacco researchers
Washington State University researchers David Gang and Shannon Tushingham have found that tobacco use among the Nez Perce goes back centuries. They’re holding two of the pipes that were analyzed for nicotine residue. (WSU Photo)

Tobacco plays a big role in Native American history and culture, predating Christopher Columbus’ arrival by well more than a millennium. But what did ancient tribes smoke? And can history help modern-day tribes put tobacco in its proper place?

A newly published study by Washington State University researchers traces the smoking habits of indigenous peoples in southeastern Washington state over the course of centuries, based on a molecular analysis of residue extracted from smoking pipes found at archaeological sites.

“This is the longest continuous biomolecular record of ancient tobacco smoking from a single region anywhere in the world — initially during an era of pithouse development, through the late pre-contact equestrian era, and into the historic period,” the research team, led by WSU anthropologist Shannon Tushingham, reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Life on the moon? It could have happened

Moon and Earth
The moon passes across Earth’s disk in a 2015 image captured by the DSCOVR satellite from its observation point, a million miles out in space. (Credit: NASA / NOAA)

The moon is one of the last places in the solar system you’d expect to find life today, but astrobiologists say life could have found a foothold there billions of years ago.

The life-on-the-moon question could provide a focus for future science missions to the moon in the years ahead, and mesh with similar searches on more promising worlds such as Mars, the Jovian moon Europa and the Saturnian moon Enceladus.

In a study published online today by the journal Astrobiology, Washington State University’s Dirk Schulze-Makuch and the University of London’s Ian Crawford pinpoint two spans of time when conditions on the moon might have supported simple lifeforms.

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