Monday, March 3, 2014

Precision farming to the single-plant level

An agricultural engineer in Texas is working on electronics that will scan a field-sized crop and detect individual plants that have stand-out performance.

Dr. Alex Thomasson of Texas A&M university is working with plant breeders who want to be able to pick out the best-performing plants.

They are conducting their research on sorghum, but once it’s perfected, it could be applied to corn and other crops of high value.

Thomasson is working on hardware and software that can scan crops as a tractor moves across the field.

The team includes Thomasson, Dr. Bill Rooney, a plant breeder at Texas A&M’s AgriLife Research, and John Mullet, AgriLife Research biochemist.

Their precision-farming equipment is being designed to pick out sorghum plants that can be used to generate bioenergy, not food or feed.

"In general, energy crops are likely to be produced with minimal inputs in terms of nutrients, water, etc.," Thomasson said.

"Therefore, developing cultivars that have high yield, drought tolerance and high nitrogen use efficiency is of vital importance to a successful sorghum-based energy supply industry."

Thomasson has been one of the pioneers working on precision farming, mainly sensors that help farmers to apply precise blends of fertilizer where they are most needed in a field.