Today, there are approximately 1 billion people who are underfed; and with an expected 9 billion people inhabiting the earth by 2050, we must use all of the technology that farmers have at their disposal. Technology is giving some promising solutions to this problem.

Emerging Agricultural Technologies

Len Calderone for |

The requirement for new farm technology is high, and when researchers show results, modern farmers have shown a willingness to incorporate those inventions and new techniques into their farms. In the years ahead, these innovative technologies will change the agricultural landscape.

Soil-moisture sensors can indicate what the roots are experiencing under the soil. They can inform a farmer when it’s time to irrigate or to withhold watering. These sensors save water, which is important in areas like the western Great Plains where water use is being tightened. By avoiding unnecessary watering, a farmer will save money even if there are no restrictions.

Overirrigating tends to wash nutrients down through the soil, developing a shallow root pattern. In times of heat or drought, a plant needs a deep root base. In a three-year study by Monsanto in Kansas and Nebraska, sensors saved two acre-inches of water each year, yet the average corn yield increased 6 bushels per acre.

Image result for soil moisture sensors for agriculture

There are two types of soil-moisture sensors. The first are capacitance sensors, which are very accurate. A farmer places them in the ground and the sensors produce a measurement. Before placement, a soil moisture threshold should be determined based on soil texture. The sensors are then calibrated during each installation. This is time-consuming.

Image result for capacitance sensors for farming

Next are Tensiometric sensors. These soil-moisture sensors measure the energy level at which water is being held by the soil. Every plant utilizes energy to move water away from the soil to the plant root. These sensors are not affected by soil type—therefore, no calibration needs to be made.

A 100-acre field with the same soil could get by with two sensors. If a field has three main soil types, it’s recommended to have two sensors for each soil type. Besides being a backup in case of lightning, a second sensor at a site helps balance field microvariability. There can be a 10% - 20% difference in readings from sensors just a few feet apart. Placing one sensor in highly variable soils at one site does not optimize water.

The depth of the sensors can range from 8 to 12 inches to 4 feet or more. Most of the readings will come from shallow depths. Deeper readings will give a farmer a more complete picture, as there is a more incremental value by going deeper. Some sensors provide a software application that identifies the optimal location for the soil-moisture sensor. Having the probe in the proper location gives the most effective data.Related image

Satellite imaging allows for real-time crop imagery. These images are in resolutions of 15 yard pixels or greater. Crop imagery lets a farmer examine crops as if s/he were standing next to the crop. Reviewing images weekly can save a farm a substantial amount of time and money. This technology can be integrated with crop, soil and water sensors so that farmers can receive notifications of dangerous conditions.

The data used to create zone maps is collected by sensors on the ground and in the sky. Using unmanned aerial systems (drones) and Earth observation satellites, data is available to farmers and agricultural consultants. The aerial view helps them quickly detect in-season problems, such as nutrient deficiencies, pests, and disease, giving them the chance to correct issues that could limit crop production.  

Multi-spectral remote sensing from satellites is linked to crop growth and condition through canopy parameters such as the leaf area index (LAI), which measures two basic physiological processes, photosynthesis and evapotranspiration. Other measurements include surface soil properties, nitrogen content, water stress, vegetation cover, above ground biomass, crop species, crop height, crop yield, and weed extent. Many of these parameters are determined using vegetation indices, such as the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). When continual cloud cover during the growing season blocks satellite imaging systems, user-friendly unmanned aerial systems could replace the satellite.

A farmer might find corn production ranges from 75 bushels to 200 bushels in the same field. Remote sensing identifies localized nutrient deficiencies by zone management.

An infestation of soybean cyst nematode is hard to detect with a visual inspection of plants. Multispectral imaging detects subtle differences in the canopy enabling localized treatment before it spreads.

One of the most exciting events in agriculture technology comes in a very tiny package—the minichromosome, which is a small structure within a cell that includes very little genetic material but can hold a large amount of information.

Making use of minichromosomes, agricultural geneticists can add dozens and possibly hundreds of characteristics to a plant. These characteristics can be quite complex, such as drought tolerance and increased nitrogen use. The interesting thing about minichromosomal technology is that a plant’s original chromosomes are not altered in any way. That results in faster regulatory approval and wider, faster acceptance from consumers.

Plant artificial chromosomes are chromosome-based vectors (minichromosomes) for genetic engineering. Minichromosomes are engineered chromosomes with the following properties. Minichromosomes are small and since they have no genes of their own, they can be used as super routes to convey foreign genes. Minichromosomes are stable during both mitosis and meiosis to allow the resident genes to be faithfully extracted and transmitted from cell to cell and from generation to generation. Finally, minichromosomes will allow the addition, deletion and replacement of genes on them.

RFID technology has found its way onto the farm. The soil and water sensors discussed earlier have set the groundwork for traceability. These sensors provide information that can be associated with farming yields. We’re living in a world where a bag of potatoes can have a barcode that you can scan with your smartphone to retrieve information about the soil where they grew.

RFID technology is used to track all sorts of items, due to the speed and convenience of scanning RFID tags in bulk without requiring direct line of sight. Many industries use RFID for inventory management, accuracy throughout the supply chain, improving operational efficiency and raising profit margins.

To keep track of their valuable inventory, marijuana growers in the states where marijuana is legal to grow are using RFID tags and RFID readers to simplify and streamline plant management. To implement a fully automated tracking system using RFID, growers can simply maintain real-time visibility of their supply chain, tracking each plant all the way to the point-of-sale.

RFID is used to manage agricultural inventories in nursery and landscape locations, where trees and plants can be located over a large area. Fixed RFID simplifies the location of specific plants.

Today, there are approximately 1 billion people who are underfed; and with an expected 9 billion people inhabiting the earth by 2050, we must use all of the technology that farmers have at their disposal. Technology is giving some promising solutions to this problem.



The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AgriTechTomorrow

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