Ag Sensors

ag sensors

The world of agriculture is changing quickly with all the new technology. Artificial intelligence (AI); automated planting, spraying, and harvesting; and nutrient management are all being incorporated into farming operations to increase efficiency and yields. This article will focus on changes in nutrient management.

Plant nutrition impacts yield and the quality of our food supply and impacts pests (weeds, insects, disease). Most farmers have insufficient data for the immediate nutrient needs of a plant, leading to fertilizer misapplication and significant challenges in fruit and grain quality. Good plant nutrition at the right time improves plant health, soil health and also reduces issues with pests. Extensive research has established the link between disease susceptibility and specific nutritional imbalances associated with each disease. By managing a crop’s nutritional needs, it is possible to significantly reduce or even eliminate pest susceptibility, however, farmers need to measure plant nutrient balance with real-time data.

The standard for plant nutrition was to monitor dry matter leaf tissue analysis in a laboratory. Typically, leaf samples would be collected and ship to a laboratory when a problem occurs or with sporadic sampling. Laboratory results may take a week or longer, causing delays in decision-making. The costs associated with sample collection, shipping, and turnaround time further restrict the frequency and accessibility of sampling.

An additional challenge with tissue analysis is the data doesn’t always accurately reflect what is occurring in the field. A rapidly growing crop may not be obtaining enough calcium to maintain healthy cell structure for newly formed cells, while all the previously formed cells contain adequate calcium. A tissue analysis will continue to show adequate calcium levels for 3-4 weeks, until the new growth becomes deficient enough for the shortfall to show up. Because of these challenges, routine tissue testing is not a standard practice for most growers.

For high value crops, leaf sap analysis is now being used because it is more sensitive and accurate than tissue analysis and nutrient imbalances can be detected 3-4 weeks earlier than with a standard tissue analysis. The data tracked with the field observations is more accurate than using tissue analysis. Tested every 14 days through the crop growing season reveals numerous crop quality and pest susceptibility problems stemming from fertilizer misapplication. Excessive fertilizer usage and improper timing are common errors, accounting for more than 80% of crop quality issues. While sap analysis helps improve data accuracy, it is time consuming and the results still have to be sent to labs.

Now farmers can use sensor technology to allow for the real-time measurement of plant nutritional balance and the presence of pathogens, enabling nutrition management as a powerful disease prevention tool. Now monitoring a crop’s nutritional status every week and adjusting nutrient applications accordingly becomes more accessible and affordable. This new technology has undergone successful greenhouse and field tests on various crops, including citrus, apples, soybeans, and potatoes; with plans to test additional crops.

This advancement has the promise to reduce fertilizer usage, particularly for nitrogen (N), phosphorous (P), and potassium (K), resulting in decreased water pollution caused by nitrates. It can also effectively mitigate disease and insect pressure, stemming from excessive fertilizer applications, and thus reduce the reliance on pesticides. By addressing the core issues of nutrient imbalances and disease susceptibility, this new methodology holds tremendous promise for the future of agriculture. Adapted from an article by John Kemp, Advancing Ecological Agriculture (AEA)

Here is an example how this technology might increase crop yields. Alex Harrell, a young Georgia farmer has set the world record on soybeans at 206.7 bushel per acre. Alex will be a speaker at the Conservation Tillage & Technology Conference at Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio on March 13, 2024. Alex has been using Brandt nutrient foliar feed products to achieve these high yields, but he is definitely not holding back on fertilizer applications. He starts at planting with a seed fertilizer package in furrow, then applies three products at V2 (two leaf stage), three more products at V6 (six leaf stage), and another four products at reproductive stages R1, R2, R3, R4, R5. Needless to say, it would be extremely difficult to be profitable with that many applications and it would be impossible to do this are on large acreage.

Alex achieved this record yield on 2.5 acres just to prove that it is possible to get exceptionally high soybean yields. He used standard tissue testing. However, now with plant sensors and almost immediate data, farmers may soon be able to fine-tune their applications and only put on immediately, the crop nutrients that are needed to maximize crop yields. The future of farming is becoming a reality quite quickly.