Specialty Crops ‘Ripe’ For Precision Agriculture

Specialty Crops ‘Ripe’ For Precision Agriculture

Richard Sowers

Precision agriculture techniques could have substantial financial benefits for producers of hand-picked specialty crops, according to a new paper by Richard Sowers, a professor of engineering and of mathematics at the University of Illinois. Photo credit: L. Brian Stauffer

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Timing the harvest and transport of highly perishable, hand-picked crops such as strawberries so these delicate products reach consumers at peak flavor and freshness is an intricate dance that partners Mother Nature with manual labor, writes Sharita L. Forrest on the Illinois News Bureau website.

However, many of the “smart farming” techniques and technologies that help growers harvest more of what they sow faster and more efficiently have focused primarily on row crops like corn and soybeans, bypassing growers of high-value fresh produce.

“The large machines used to harvest row crops such as wheat, corn and soybeans provide a natural platform for improving efficiency,” said Richard Sowers, a professor of industrial and enterprise systems engineering and of mathematics at the University of Illinois. “However, the story is radically different in high-value, hand-picked crops like strawberries, which may be many times more valuable per acre than corn. With hand-picked crops, precision agriculture lags significantly behind.”

“A hundred acres of corn may have a value of just $800,000, while the same number of acres planted in strawberries may be worth $7.5 million,” said Devasia Manuel, a recent Illinois alumnus. “Yet, strawberry harvesters use little to no precision agriculture techniques. It’s quite astonishing.”

Read the full story on the Illinois New Bureau website.