International Agriculture News, Precision Farming

Biodegradable miniature sensors a precision solution to agriculture’s variability problem

Disposable fingernail-sized sensors could one day be used as a measuring tool by farmers as they push to be more efficient and sustainable operators.

This next generation of sensors were under development and emitted a tiny pulse that measured whatever parameter it was designed for.

The information it collected was uploaded onto a cloud server, Colorado State University professor of precision agriculture, Raj Khosla? said.

Colorado State University professor of precision agriculture, Raj Khosla says agriculture is only now embracing the possibilities that come with precision technologies.

“You can hold them in your hand, go to the field and randomly distribute them out into the field. You don’t even have to collect them, they are biodegradable,” said Khosla, a guest speaker at the International Tri-conference for Precision Agriculture in Hamilton.

This technology and the wider use of precision agriculture allowed farmers to better understand variability in soil, water, nutrients, topography and weather that made farming so challenging in the past, he said.

“One size does not fit all. You cannot manage your entire farm with one rate of water. You cannot manage your farm with one rate of nitrogen.”

In the past, a one-size-fits all approach on paddocks with variable conditions resulted in them being under or over-fertilised. Having data collected using precision agriculture allowed farmers to reallocate resources and apply them where it really mattered, he said.

“We can cut back our resources, continue or maintain our yield and reduce losses.”

Agriculture was being seen through a digital lens with farmers relying on sensors as a measurement tool that stored data on a cloud server providing access anywhere and anytime.

The next wave of technology for precision agriculture will come from harnessing this data. Farmers could now choose what they wanted to monitor using sensors and collect vast amounts of information.

There had been more data collected by humans in the last two years than in the entire space of human history, he said.

“The question is, what do we do with that now. That’s where the challenge is.”

Khosla said farming still had a long way to go to make the most of this technology.

Today’s modern smartphones were four billion times faster than the computers used to put man on the moon in 1969, he said.

“We’re carrying a lot of technology in our pocket, yet we are struggling in technology.”

That technology was only now being embraced for agriculture.

GPS receivers have developed from large two person work stations 40 years ago to technology that fits on a fingertip.

“Imagine how agriculture is going to change in the next 40 years.”

He said GPS was the “backbone of precision agriculture”.

“Agriculture is changing and now I am so proud that we are innovating in agriculture. There is more innovation and investment right now  than ever in the history of humankind. Our time has arrived, finally.”