Book:The Laboratories of Our Lives: Labs, Labs Everywhere!/Labs by industry: Part 1/Agriculture and forestry

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3. Labs by industry: Part 1

In this and the following three chapters, we take a look at 20 broad industry categories and the laboratories associated with them. For each you'll find a brief description with common services and how the lab type affects the average person. As discussed previously, using our client type + function model we dig into examples found in the private, government, and academic sectors and then outline functions through activities, sciences, test types, equipment, and unique attributes. Finally, we discuss the role of informatics in each industry lab type.

3.1 Agriculture and forestry

Unload wheat by the combine Claas Lexion 584.jpg

Laboratories within the agriculture and forestry industry are focused on analyzing, improving, and ensuring the safety of the various plants, animals, and fungi that are cultivated or bred to sustain and enhance human life. These labs provide a solid foundation for the safety and security of what can at times be a large network of food and plant-based resources, particularly for large countries with temperate climates.[1] They are found in the private, government, and academic sectors and provide many different services, including:

  • analysis and assessment of seeds and soils[2]
  • analysis and assessment of fertilizers and pesticides[2]
  • studies of farm and field systems[2]
  • studies of plant and feedstock nutrition[3]
  • analysis and assessment of plant and tree fibers and chemicals[4]
  • analysis and assessment of fungi and their chemical components[5][6]
  • tracking and analysis of plant and tree diseases[7]
  • tracking and analysis of invasive plants and insects[7]
  • risk assessment of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and microorganisms[8]
  • tracking and analysis of agricultural animal disease[9]

But how do agriculture and forestry laboratories intersect the average person's life on a daily basis?

The most obvious way these labs touch our lives on a daily basis is through the food and beverages we consume. Though we talk about the food and beverage industry and its laboratories separately in this guide, agriculture labs are at the forefront of humanity's push to provide greater, more efficient, healthier, and safer agricultural yields. Agriculture lab personnel work to better feed humans and animals alike, while also considering the environmental impact of research-based advances in fertilizers, pesticides, and GMOs. Without these laboratories in place, we would surely face an even more dire future of struggling to maintain crop yields in a world of increasing population and decreasing natural resources.[10]

These labs also intersect our lives in other ways. For example, studies of fungi have revealed constituents applicable to paper production, soil remediation, and pharmaceutical development.[6] Similarly, monitoring of plant and tree diseases through laboratory work helps us stand prepared to address potential threats to our own agricultural products.[7] In these cases, the work of these labs shows up in many of the products we use and agriculture we consume.

3.1.1 Client types

Private - Agriculture labs in the private sector typically serve as third-party or contract laboratories to other entities conducting agricultural activities while unable or unwilling to invest in their own private laboratory. Aside from analytical services, these labs often include consulting services on plant nutrition, soil sciences, and water management.

Examples include:

Government - Government-run agriculture and forestry laboratories conduct specialized topical research, provide analytical services, and oversee federal, state, and local programs in the industry. From bee research to interstate milk shipping programs and compliance testing, these public or public-private labs may act as major research hubs or checkpoints of regulated testing.

Examples include:

Academic - Agriculture laboratories associated with higher education institutions are often of a hybrid client type and function. The institution's laboratory may be made multi-purpose for research, teaching, and analytical testing purposes. Many higher-education agriculture labs also process samples from external third-party clients, acting in some ways like a private analytical lab would. In some cases, non-profit and private entities partner with higher education (public-private) to provide research and training opportunities beneficial to both the entities and the students. (See for example the Cornell-affiliated non-profit Hudson Valley Research Laboratory.[11])

Examples include:

3.1.2 Functions

What are the most common functions? analytical, QA/QC, research/design, and teaching

What materials, technologies, and/or aspects are being analyzed, researched, and quality controlled? animal tissue, commodities, compost, feed and forage, fertilizers, fruits, fungi, insects, irrigation water, manure, pesticides, plant tissue, seeds, soil

What sciences are being applied in these labs? agroecology, agronomy, agrophysics, animal science, biological engineering, biology, biotechnology, chemistry, environmental science, food science, forestry, microbiology, mycology, nematology, soil science, water management

What are some examples of test types and equipment?

Common test types include:

Absorption, Acute contact, Acute oral, Acute toxicity, Allergy, Antifungal susceptibility, Antimicrobial, Atterberg limits, Bioaccumulation, Biodegradation, Chronic toxicity, Composition, Conductivity, Consolidation, Contamination, Cytology, Density, Developmental and reproductive toxicology, Efficacy, Endocrine disruptor screening program, Environmental fate, Environmental metabolism, Expiration dating, Fluorescence, Formulation, Genotoxicity, GMO detection, Hydraulic conductivity, Identification, Impurity, Labeling, Metallurgical analysis, Minimum bactericidal concentration, Minimum inhibitory concentration, Mobility, Moisture, Mold - fungal - mycotoxin, Mutagenicity, Nutritional, Organic carbon, Oxidation reduction potential, Oxidation stability, Pathogen, Pathogenicity, PDCAAS, Permeability, pH, Phytosanitary, Plant metabolism, Proficiency, Purity, Radioactivity, Radiochemical, Sanitation, Sensory, Shelf life, Soil microflora, Solubility, Specific gravity, Subchronic toxicity, Terrestrial toxicology, Toxicokinetic, Vigor and germination, Water activity, Wildlife toxicology

Industry-related lab equipment may include:

automated weather stations, chromatographs, colorimeters, conductivity analyzers, diffractometer, dry ovens, fat analyzers, incubators, mills, moisture testers, nitrogen/oxygen analyzers, pH meters, porometers, scales, spectrometers

What else, if anything, is unique about the labs in the agriculture industry?

The food and beverage industry is closely linked. For example, the State of Pennsylvania's Department of Agriculture includes a food safety laboratory division.[12] However, for the purposes of this guide, food, beverages, and ingredients are separated out as part of their own industry. Even raw materials that can be consumed alone such as cow milk or apples require some processing and handling (e.g., cleaning and packaging). In other words, the agriculture industry is arguably worried about the research, development, growth, and safety of what goes into what the food and beverage industry provides. Agriculture labs also have obvious tie-ins to environmental laboratories, as agricultural activities impact the environment and vice versa. Ties to veterinary labs may seem evident, and in fact many universities lump veterinary science programs with agriculture programs. However, animal science as a scientific discipline is arguably more closely aligned with agriculture science, as animal science takes a broader approach to the production, care, nutrition, and processing of animal-based food products.[13]

3.1.3 Informatics in the agriculture and forestry industry

Informatics software is being applied in agricultural fields, forests, and laboratories in a variety of ways, including for:

  • continuous soil profile monitoring[14]
  • collecting and analyzing real time kinematic (RTK) elevation and mapping data to improve crop yields[14]
  • tracking animal disease[15]
  • optimization of tree harvest scheduling and crew assignment[16]
  • computation of wildfire risk indices[17]
  • maintaining lab compliance with testing standards from organizations such as the Association of Official Seed Analysts (AOSA)[18]

Researchers of agricultural informatics may publish in journals such as Journal of Agricultural Informatics[19] and present at conferences like the International Conference on Agricultural Informatics.[20] Some universities like The Hebrew University of Jerusalem even offer agricultural informatics programs to students wishing to apply informatics within and outside the agriculture lab.[21]

3.1.4 LIMSwiki resources and further reading

LIMSwiki resources

Further reading


  1. "GAEZ v4 Themes". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved 28 June 2022. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Gliessman, S.R. (2007). Field and Laboratory Investigations in Agroecology. CRC Press. pp. 302. ISBN 9780849328466. 
  3. Askey, K. (7 December 2016). "Feedstocks - Increasing nutrition". Oak Ridge National Laboratory. U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science. Retrieved 28 June 2022. 
  4. "Research Unit: Fiber and Chemical Sciences Research". Forest Products Laboratory. U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved 28 June 2022. 
  5. "Mycology and Nematology Genetic Diversity and Biology Laboratory: Beltsville, MD". U.S. Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 30 June 2022. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Center For Forest Mycology Research - Culture Collection". U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved 30 June 2022. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "Forest Inventory and Analysis". USDA Forest Service Southern Research Station. U.S. Forest Service. Retrieved 28 June 2022. 
  8. U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment (August 1992). "Chapter 8: Scientific Issues: Risk Assessment and Risk Management". A New Technological Era for American Agriculture. U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 225–256. ISBN 9780160379784. 
  9. National Academies Press (2012). Meeting Critical Laboratory Needs for Animal Agriculture: Examination of Three Options. National Academy of Science. pp. 144. ISBN 9780309261296. 
  10. Singh, R.B. (2012). "Chapter 1: Climate Change and Food Security". In Tuteja, N.; Gill, S.S.; Tuteja, R.. Improving Crop Productivity in Sustainable Agriculture. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 1–22. ISBN 9783527665198. 
  11. "Farmer's Alliance for Research & Management". Cornell University. Retrieved 28 June 2022. 
  12. "Food Safety Laboratory". Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 28 June 2022. 
  13. Flanders, F. (2011). Exploring Animal Science. Cengage Learning. pp. 38–39. ISBN 9781435439528. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 "An Introduction to Agro-Informatics". CropMetrics. 6 February 2014. Archived from the original on 03 December 2018. Retrieved 28 June 2022. 
  15. "A Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) for Africa". Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 13 October 2014. Retrieved 28 June 2022. 
  16. Jansen, M.; Judas, M.; Saborowski, J. (2002). "Chapter 2: Introduction". Spatial Modelling in Forest Ecology and Management: A Case Study. Springer. pp. 3–10. ISBN 9783540433576. Retrieved 28 June 2022. 
  17. Iliadis, L.; Betsidou, T. (2014). "Chapter 53: Soft Computing Modeling of Wild Fire Risk Indices: The Risk Profile of Peloponnesus Region in Greece". Crisis Management: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools and Applications. IGI Global. pp. 1073–1087. ISBN 9781466647084. Retrieved 28 June 2022. 
  18. "Features". Elmwood Solutions, Inc. Retrieved 06 July 2022. 
  19. "Journal of Agricultural Informatics". Hungarian Association of Agricultural Informatics. Retrieved 30 June 2022. 
  20. "International Conference on Agricultural Informatics". World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology. Retrieved 30 June 2022. 
  21. "Agro informatics Program". Computational Agriculture Food & Environment, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Retrieved 30 June 2022.