Researchers Look to Take Precision Ag to Next Level

John DavisResearch, University

a&msensor1Computerized sensors, automatic sprayers, and even one day, driverless, GPS-guided tractors might seem pretty realistic in the world of precision agriculture. But a researcher in Texas is looking to take the technology to the next level. In this article from Texas A&M, Dr. Alex Thomasson, an agricultural engineer for the school, says he wants to develop sensors and computer hardware and software that can evaluate the status of individual plants in real time, as the tractor moves across a field automatically.

Thomasson is currently working on a system that will be able to aid plant breeders in sorting through the thousands or even tens of thousands of plants for the development of new varieties.

[One of Thomasson’s partners in the venture, Dr. Bill Rooney] and other breeders have been working on new varieties for years. Whether produced by conventional plant crosses or genetic manipulation, the first selections of any breeding program rely a great deal upon observable characteristics of individual plants – what’s called “phenotyping.”

“A major limitation in the genetic improvement of energy crops is the collection of large, good quality phenotypic data,” Thomasson said. “Traditional plant phenotypic measurements rely on humans, and are slow, expensive and subjective.”

Eventually the group wants to develop sorghum for energy production that has good yields, tolerates drought, and uses nitrogen efficiently. To get there, they are developing a variety of sensors to include:

Down-looking six-band, multi-spectral camera.
Down-looking thermal imaging camera.
Light curtain.
Side-looking camera.
Ultrasonic sensor.