ITHACA, N.Y. — Nitrogen is a crucial nutrient for crop production. Application of nitrogen can increase growth, create better biomass yields, and influence the nutritional quality of crops. Determining precise nitrogen rates for optimum performance is critical for any producer because too little or too much nitrogen fertilizer can hinder crop performance or cause environmental problems. However, traditional nitrogen calculators are often imprecise because they do not account for variables such as soil types, crop management practices, and weather conditions. That’s why NYFVI is funding a new approach by Cornell University researchers.
In an innovative project, titled Lower-canopy crop sensing for nitrogen deficiencies using robotic platforms, field robots equipped with RGB (Red-Green-Blue) imaging will sense for color changes on lower-level leaves of corn crops. Sensing for color changes can assess nitrogen deficiencies or excesses in corn plants and help in determining optimum nitrogen levels. The project will collect data from different fields, different growing seasons, and different times of day (daytime and nighttime) to test the robotic platform and create a robust data set.
Cornell Professor of Soil and Water Management and project leader Harold van Es said, “Nitrogen production involves a lot of concerns for both farmers and society due to high cost, energy consumption, water quality impacts, and greenhouse gas emissions. It is also a challenge for farmers due to many factors that impact the optimum nitrogen rate. We have developed computer models to greatly improve the estimation of optimum nitrogen rates by accounting for the effects of different soil types, crop management practices, and weather conditions. This project focuses on opportunities to take crop nitrogen management to an even higher level of precision. By sensing color changes of a corn crop at the lower leaves, field robots can assess nitrogen stress with high levels of spatial resolution. Such field robots could also be used for other in-field sensing, like soil health, weed pressure, as well as timely management like cover crop seeding spraying of weed escapes. This project therefore fits with future developments in robotic equipment that will potentially make crop production more sustainable.”
The New York Farm Viability Institute is a nonprofit grantmaking organization. The organization runs a competitive grant program that seeks to fund agricultural research and education projects that will create and share knowledge to improve the economic viability of New York’s farmers. If you are a New York farmer and would like to get involved in our review process, please reach out to Aileen Randolph at firstname.lastname@example.org.
–New York Farm Viability Institute