Our focus on agriculture is driven by both market need and market gaps. The need to produce greater amounts of food, fuel, and fiber is clear. The resources, both natural and human, that can be devoted to this, however, are increasingly reaching limits. We believe that sensor technology can and should play a significant role in supporting and amplifying those resources. However, while the amount of spending on agricultural research has grown exponentially over the past 20 years, the basic research is often not paired with a similar emphasis on development. As a result, technology is created but does not reach its potential as a commercialized product.
In many ways today’s farmer operates in a world that would have been unrecognizable to his counterpart from 100 years ago. In the developed world, we have moved from horse or mule drawn single row equipment to behemoths that can cover the ground from horizon to horizon in a day’s work. We have GPS and precision technology, seeds with amazing biotechnology incorporated, and crop protection and fertilization options that make the second green revolution possible.
But in other ways, that farmer from 100 years ago would find today’s world all too familiar. If he wants to know if the southwest section is ready to plant, he needs to still eyeball it and make a judgement (guess). If he wants to know if pests are an issue (whether flying, crawling or microscopic) he often must wait until they (or their impact) are visible and then act. Similarly, the questions of how much fertilizer a stand needs or the optimum level and type of post-emergence crop protection necessary are too often answered when the yield is visible in the bin rather than by data collected and available when effective adjustments are still possible.
From the prevention, presence, and control of pests and pathogens, to when to plant and harvest, to making sure that treatments and inputs do not travel off site, too many on-farm situations depend on a human to make a visual inspection and then decide on a course of action with less than complete information. Sensors can and should make a meaningful contribution to helping growers make decisions based on objective data rather than subjective observations.
We see agriculture as a target rich environment for sensor development and use. Improved sensors are needed for all of the following:
- Carbon sequestration
- Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) issues
- Crop ripeness and harvest window
- Food safety
- GMO and pesticide/herbicide/fungicide containment
- Grain storage and movement
- Nitrate levels and runoff
- Soil moisture, compaction, and health
- Weed and insect presence and pressure