Sensor Tech: Joining The Ranks

Sensor technology today is omnipresent – they are everywhere and sense everything from the oil level on your tractor to the ionic water-holding capacity of soil – and predictions are they will only continue to gain momentum as the industry strives towards the future halcyon days of fully automated farming.

One area that makes sense for sensor deployment today is in irrigation and water-use monitoring, according to Chris van der Loo, director of marketing, Trimble Water Solutions.

“There are places like Nebraska where they are regulating the amount of water that growers can use per season – it used to be they could use as much as they want – now its highly regulated, and some are having to grow the same crop with less than half the water they had before (regulation),” says van der Loo. “For Trimble, variable rate irrigation (VRI) is really the next step in precision agriculture and we project the Corn Belt will be huge with VRI in the future.”

Enter Trimble’s Soil Information System (SIS) package for Connected Farm, which combined with Irrigation IQ allows for variable rate irrigation as well as a host of other water monitoring capabilities. SIS is soil mapping technology that uses advanced sensors to measure soil characteristics, and then integrates that data as well into the Connected Farm software suite, giving users the ability to make data-enabled decisions on irrigation.

“This is way more information than the traditional USDA soil maps that anyone can access, it’s basically a platform aimed around getting spatially accurate data from 4 feet below the soil for an entire field,” says van der Loo. “What we are looking for is the water holding capacity of the soil, which is very important for VRI, as well as actual soil characteristics such as root zone depth, soil texture, compaction characteristics and nutrient levels.”

Beyond the Western states, Trimble naturally feels there are others that can benefit from more precise application of water resources.

“We’re trying to increase awareness around overwatering,” says van der Loo. “Our research on the negative response that we get on yield when we overwater is truly eye-opening, so the message we are trying to get out there is ‘optimize water to optimize yield.’”

SIS also ties into Trimble’s Farm Works software, as well as the Scout mobile app.

Sensor Systems Go

Topcon Precision Agriculture’s Mike Gomes, widely recognized as someone locked in on the industry pulse, sees sensor technology evolving along the same lines as some of other ag technologies, embracing more of an all-encompassing “systems approach”.

“Today there are various sensors around a particular solution — variable-rate, section control and boom height control, those types of things,” says the recently-promoted vice president of business development. “Really the next step for the industry is when growers are able to use those individual technologies in coordination, and the feedback from those sensors becomes more important because it helps them to measure what they want to manage.”

Feedback, or data, from on-the-go imaging sensors (NDVI, multi-spectral, etc.) that quantify plant “greenness” and growth is also valuable, he says.

“Now you start to have information on quality and you start understanding not just where you want to put different things, but what you believe you’re producing,” says Gomes. “The sensors provide the feedback so growers understand what the state of their crop is at any given time, and where they should spend the money, or maybe where they can save money.

“Feedback from sensors, in conjunction with the ability to visualize that data to understand how it meets your prospective objectives on the farm, is a big deal.”

Sensor technology also has the potential to vastly alter the planting process, one day allowing for real-time variable rate planting of two separate seed varieties, depending on soil type/other factors, as well as the ability to set up a field for optimal planting conditions (A-B lines, machine turns, etc.), says Gomes.

A Bright Future

Known more recently as the stomping grounds of Johnny Football and the original 12th Man crowd, Texas A&M University is gaining traction in academic circles as a go-to source for research on sensor tech in precision agriculture, according to a recent press release issued by the school.

A&M AgriLife research agriculture engineer Dr. Alex Thomasson intends to one day develop sensor/computer hardware and software that can determine individual plant status real time, as a driverless tractor automatically transverses the field. It is something Thomasson is already working on with his research team and, not all that far from realization, he claims.

Visions of future automated grandeur aside, Thomasson’s current work focuses on developing a system to aid plant breeders in sorting through multitudes of plants for the selection of new varieties of sorghum. While narrowly focused initially, the research could have application in large scale row crop production, as Thomasson and his team are quantifying three important traits in sorghum that also play a large role in corn and soybean production: yield, drought tolerance and nitrogen-use efficiency.

“(Looking at these three characteristics) will enable the measurement of plants along their full growth cycle, allowing the traits such as speed and form of growth, flowering and final biomass yield/quality to be investigated,” he said.

The team is currently exploring five different sensor types in its research:

  • A down-looking six-band, multi-spectral camera.
  • A down-looking thermal imaging camera.
  • A light curtain.
  • A side-looking camera.
  • Ultrasonic sensors.

According to Thomasson, the six-band, multi-spectral camera assesses nitrogen content, growth status and plant size. The thermal imaging camera measures plant canopy temperature and water content. The light curtain measures plant height, projected plant profile and plant size, the side-looking camera gives a plant profile view, and the ultrasonic sensor gives another reading on plant height.

Additionally, other indicators of plant performance can be derived from a combination of measurements from the group of sensors, Thomasson says.

“Combining a plant’s projected leaf area with its height can be a good sign of plant biomass,” he says. “And combining the down-looking and side-looking images of the plant provides for the 3-D reconstruction of the plants.”

One of the main paybacks found thus far, according to Thomasson, is that readings on a very large number of plants can be collected weekly, or even daily, at a high level of accuracy, a process that would not ordinarily be practical for the often over-extended agronomist. And while certainly intriguing, Thomasson isn’t reinventing the wheel with his five sensor project.

“There has been some sensor-based phenotyping research done in the past on plants, but a turnkey
system doesn’t exist yet,” he says “My goal is always to try to get to a commercialization phase, and I think this has potential.

Leave a Reply

Sensors/IoT Stories
Sensors/IoTCollaboration Leverages Internet of Things, Sensors in Wine Grapes
September 15, 2017
The vision of having license-free community sensor networks for agricultural users has made a giant leap closer to reality. A Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversBlue River, Deere Deal Will Accelerate Farm Robot Innovation
September 11, 2017
No, Blue River Co-founder and CEO Jorge Heraud has not been deposed — Gaddafi-style — by big, bad corporate overlord Read More
Sentera drone
DronesSentera Adds Features to AgVault NDVI Toolbox
August 31, 2017
Sentera today announced new features for the NDVI Toolbox in Sentera AgVault Desktop. The new tools offer agriculture professionals improved Read More
Sensors/IoT2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part I
August 4, 2017
With fall harvest a few weeks away for most of the country, ag service providers from every walk of life Read More
Trending Articles
BASF Maglis grower retailer tablet
Data ManagementWhat Will Happen to My Data? Understanding Your Rights in Precision Agriculture
September 12, 2017
The use of precision agriculture-based decision making to determine fertilizer rates and hybrid types and planting rates is becoming more Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversBlue River, Deere Deal Will Accelerate Farm Robot Innovation
September 11, 2017
No, Blue River Co-founder and CEO Jorge Heraud has not been deposed — Gaddafi-style — by big, bad corporate overlord Read More
Farming at Sunset
Business ManagementAgtech Issues: The Shiny Object Syndrome
September 6, 2017
Do you remember those cartoons where someone lures someone else by placing a piece of candy, small amount of money, Read More
AgQuip overview
Australia/New ZealandAgQuip 2017 Displays New Ag Technology in Australia
August 28, 2017
The annual AgQuip field days took place in Gunnedah, NSW on August 22-24. Being the largest agricultural field days in Read More
Agri-AFC-cotton-baler
Business ManagementBringing a Southern Sensibility to Precision Agriculture
August 7, 2017
Amy Winstead considers herself blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor of precision ag adoption in the Southeast. Read More
Sensors/IoT2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part I
August 4, 2017
With fall harvest a few weeks away for most of the country, ag service providers from every walk of life Read More
Latest News
Decision Support SoftwareSyngenta Helps Lead Efforts for Farm Management Softwar…
September 19, 2017
Ag data from tractors, combines, planters, and other farm machinery present a huge opportunity for growers to manage their operations Read More
Petra-Andren-Cicada-Innovations
Australia/New ZealandGrowLab’s Rocket Fuel for AgTech in Australia
September 19, 2017
Despite its superpower status as a producer and exporter of agricultural goods and services, up until now Australia has had Read More
CropIn-Team-Photo-credit-BW-Disrupt
AsiaCropIn Aims to be a Global Leader in AgTech Sector
September 19, 2017
Krishna Kumar created AgTech startup, CropIn Technology in 2010, along with co-founders Kunal Prasad and Chittranjan Jena. The trio went Read More
China-Beidou-Navigation-Satellite-System
AsiaChina’s Navigation System Gets Powerful Chip to I…
September 18, 2017
A new powerful chip technology has been introduced in China’s national satellite navigation system to provide high-precision positioning, according to Read More
Tablet Grower
Industry NewsFieldReveal Names Hesse New CEO
September 18, 2017
Matt Hesse has been selected as the Chief Executive Officer of FieldReveal, a newly launched joint venture formed to deliver Read More
John-Deere-labs
Tools & Smart EquipmentHow John Deere’s New AI Lab Is Designing Farm Equipment…
September 15, 2017
On a block in San Francisco’s SoMa district, near LinkedIn’s headquarters and dozens of startups, a 180-year-old company best-known for Read More
Wheat sunrise
Australia/New ZealandSparkLabs Group Launches an Agricultural Tech Accelerat…
September 15, 2017
SparkLabs Group, which claims to be the largest startup accelerator group in Asia, is stepping into agricultural tech with a Read More
Sensors/IoTCollaboration Leverages Internet of Things, Sensors in …
September 15, 2017
The vision of having license-free community sensor networks for agricultural users has made a giant leap closer to reality. A Read More
Young Corn Field
Data ManagementPurdue Online Tool to Help Farmers Make Precision Decis…
September 14, 2017
An innovative online tool developed by a Purdue University engineering professor will allow farmers to process data collected from their Read More
forbes-agtech-summit
Precision IrrigationImproving Water Management: Can Silicon Valley Help?
September 13, 2017
I recently attended the Forbes AgTech Summit in Salinas, CA, where roughly 50 start-up companies originating from Silicon Valley and Read More
Nate-Dorsey-Field-Trial-Curve-Compensation
Systems ManagementField Trial: Precision Application and Curve Compensati…
September 13, 2017
Several months ago I wrote an article about curve compensation in planters and how these systems can help create more Read More
Diamondback moth
Tools & Smart EquipmentTechAccel Invests in Unique Sprayable RNAi Pesticide Te…
September 12, 2017
TechAccel, the Kansas City-based technology and venture development company, has announced it has awarded the first grant under its “Path Read More
BASF Maglis grower retailer tablet
Data ManagementWhat Will Happen to My Data? Understanding Your Rights …
September 12, 2017
The use of precision agriculture-based decision making to determine fertilizer rates and hybrid types and planting rates is becoming more Read More
Terra
Imagery/SensingAerial Imagery Aids Decision-Making
September 12, 2017
As the growing season has progressed, aerial imagery has been part of the world record setting data-collection efforts for Terra, Read More
Hurricane-satellite-image
Decision Support SoftwareKeeping Things in Perspective: Weather vs. Climate in O…
September 12, 2017
As I write this, we are on the heels of catastrophic flooding in Houston due to Hurricane Harvey, and another Read More
Robotics/Labor SaversBlue River, Deere Deal Will Accelerate Farm Robot Innov…
September 11, 2017
No, Blue River Co-founder and CEO Jorge Heraud has not been deposed — Gaddafi-style — by big, bad corporate overlord Read More
India-agriculture
AsiaAgriAI: Deep Learning in Indian Agriculture
September 8, 2017
Since the advent of 20th century, electricity became the main source of invention in every major industry ranging from transportation Read More
Precision Application Field sprayer
EventsHow Will Precision Technology Impact Global Crop Protec…
September 8, 2017
John Deere’s recent acquisition of Blue River Technology (BRT) isn’t just meaningful for farmers. It suggests that the very systems Read More