Rika is a sensor manufacturer & solution provider of environmental and weather monitoring for 10+ years
Smart agriculture, also known as precision farming, enables farmers to maximize yields using minimal resources, such as water, fertilizer and seeds. By deploying sensors and mapping their fields, farmers can begin to understand their crops at a micro level, saving resources and reducing their impact on the environment. The history of smart farming dates back to the 1980s, when the capabilities of the Global Positioning System (GPS) became available. Once farmers were able to map their crops accurately, they could monitor and apply fertilizer and weed only where needed.
In the 1990s, early precision agriculture users used crop yield monitoring to generate fertilizer and pH correction recommendations. With the ability to measure more variables and feed them into crop models, recommendations for fertilizer application, watering and even peak harvest times are much more accurate.
1. Agricultural sensors
Many sensing technologies are used in precision agriculture, and the data they provide can help farmers monitor and optimize their crops to adapt to changing environmental factors, including.
Position sensors use signals from GPS satellites to determine latitude, longitude and elevation within feet. The triangulation method requires at least three satellites. Precise positioning is the cornerstone of precision agriculture.
Optical sensors use light to measure soil properties. The sensors measure the reflectance of light at different frequencies in the near-infrared, mid-infrared and polarized light spectra and can be placed on vehicles such as drones or even satellites, or on high-altitude platforms to measure the soil below. Soil reflectance and plant color data are just two of the variables that can be aggregated and processed by optical sensors. Optical sensors have been developed to determine the clay, organic matter and moisture content of soils. Vishay, for example, offers hundreds of photodetectors and photodiodes, the basic building blocks of optical sensors.
Electrochemical sensors provide critical information needed for precision agriculture: pH and soil nutrient levels. Sensor electrodes work by detecting specific ions in the soil. Currently, sensors mounted on specially designed "skates" help collect, process and map soil chemistry data.
Mechanical sensors measure soil compaction or "mechanical resistance". The sensor uses a probe to penetrate the soil and records the resistance through a load cell or strain gauge. A similar form of this technology is used on large tractors to predict the traction requirements of ground engaging equipment. Tensimeters like the Honeywell FSG15N1A detect the force used by the root system during water uptake, which is useful for irrigation interventions.
Dielectric soil moisture sensors assess moisture content by measuring the dielectric constant (the electrical property that varies with the amount of moisture) in the soil.
Airflow sensors measure the permeability of the soil. Measurements can be performed at a single location or dynamically during movement. The required output is the pressure needed to push a predetermined amount of air into the ground at a predetermined depth. Various types of soil properties, including compaction, structure, soil type and moisture, produce unique identifying characteristics.
Agroweather stations are self-contained units placed at various locations throughout the field. These stations contain sensors appropriate to the local crop and climate. Air temperature, soil temperature at different depths, rainfall, leaf moisture, chlorophyll, wind speed, dew point temperature, wind direction, relative humidity, solar radiation and atmospheric pressure are measured and recorded at predetermined intervals. These data are compiled and sent wirelessly at programmed intervals to a central data logger. Their portability and decreasing price make weather stations attractive to farms of all sizes.
2. Sensor output data in precision agriculture
Sensor technology provides actionable data that can be processed and implemented as needed to optimize crop yields while minimizing environmental impact. Here are a few ways that precision farming utilizes this data
Yield monitoring systems are installed on crop harvesters, such as combines and corn harvesters. They can provide crop weight gain by measuring, recording time, distance or GPS location to within 30 cm.
Yield mapping uses spatial coordinate data from GPS sensors mounted on harvesting equipment. Yield monitoring data is combined with the coordinates to create a yield map.
Variable rate fertilizer application tools control granular, liquid and gaseous fertilizers using yield maps and optical surveys of plant health (which may be determined by color). Variable rate controllers can be controlled manually or automatically using an on-board computer guided by the actual GPS location.
Weed mapping currently uses GPS receivers
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