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Innovation down on the farm

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Articles - May 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
The biogas plant at Stahlbush Island provides electricity for about 1,100 homes, nearly twice what the farm and plant use yearly. The $10 million project took 14 months to complete. Blueberries are the farm’s biggest seller. 
// Photo by Alexandra Shyshkina
A traditional disc runs at 4.5 mph; the faster 12 mph Amazone Catros Disc will eliminate several passes in the field, which not only saves time and money but is also better for the soil. “Every time you till the soil, you’re basically wrecking the houses where insects live,” Chambers says. “So the more you can reduce that tillage the better.” Common in Europe, the high-speed disc will be one of the first in use on the West Coast, he says. The new weeder, from Garford Farm Machinery in England, yields similar benefits. With the help of a computer-controlled camera, the machine will weed nine rows at a time at high speed and very close accuracy, says Chambers.

Neither piece of equipment comes cheap. The disc is about $58,000 and the weeder about $50,000. High capital costs can deter investment in more efficient technologies and systems, says Chambers, who was the first in Oregon to use a satellite-guided tractor. “But most everything in agriculture you have to take the long view.” As energy costs go up, he says, many new technologies will eventually pay for themselves.

“We are always trying to be more efficient and come up with better ways to preserve quality or make our product better,” says Chambers, describing his pragmatic approach to innovation. Be it a biogas plant or high-tech automated weeder, Chambers says his desire to adopt new technologies arises from “walking around the farm and solving problems. I’ve always been a curious kid.”


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Editor's Letter: Power Play

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014

There’s a fascinating article in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review about a profound power shift taking place in business and society. It’s a long read, but the gist revolves around the tension between “old power” and “new power” as a driver of transformation. Here’s an excerpt:

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures.

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

The authors, Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, don’t necessarily favor one form of power over another but merely outline how power is transitioning, and how companies can take advantage of these changes to strengthen their positions in the marketplace. 

Our Powerbook issue might be viewed as a case study in the new-power transition. This annual book of lists provides information on leading businesses, nonprofits and universities in the state. Most of the featured companies are entrenched power players now pursuing more flexible and less hierarchical approaches to doing business. Law firms, for example, are adopting new technologies and fee structures to make legal services more accessible and affordable.

This month we also take a look at a controversial new U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring public companies to disclose the median pay of workers, as well as the ratio between CEO and median-worker pay. 

Part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform law, the rule will compel public companies to be more open about employee compensation, with the assumption that greater transparency will improve corporate performance and, perhaps, help address one of the major challenges of our time: income inequality.

New power is not only about strategy and tactics, the Harvard Business Review authors say. “The ultimate questions are ethical. The big question is whether new power can genuinely serve the common good and confront society’s most intractable problems.”

That sounds like a call to arms. Or a New Year’s resolution. Old power or new, the goals are the same: to be a force for positive change in the world. Happy 2015!

— Linda


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