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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


New Precision Agriculture Device Provides Clues to Crop Health

August 8, 2001

LONDON, Ohio -- Growers may be able to determine the overall health of their crop by measuring plant growth rate throughout the season.

Ohio State University agricultural engineers have developed a device, known as a biomass sensor, that calculates the volume of a particular plant and compares it to the plant's normal growth rate at any given time during a growing period. The results will be able to tell farmers whether or not their crop is performing well, and if they need to water their field, fertilize their crops or apply insecticides to remedy the problem.

"The sensor gives an early indicator of how plants are doing," said Reza Ehsani, an OSU precision agriculture state specialist. "If a plant is not growing at it's normal rate, then the farmer can question what the problem may be and do additional analyses on the performance of the plants."

The biomass sensor will be demonstrated as part of OSU's precision agriculture exhibit at Farm Science Review, Sept. 18-20 at Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London, OH.

Ehsani said the biomass sensor works like a radar unit in that it scans, at a 180-degree angle, the cross section of a plant, and then creates a map that calculates overall plant volume. The sensor, which measures the growth rate index, is calibrated to store normal growth rates of various crops, so farmers can make a comparison. "A farmer can install the device on a tractor and as he is spraying, he can collect information on plant growth in the field," said Ehsani.

Researchers hope the biomass sensor becomes a component of precision agriculture. Together with GPS data, it can be used to create additional biomass maps of a field. The maps can then be used as an additional layer of information when analyzing precision agriculture data.

"For example, the rate of a healthy plant may have a growth index of 50, but say a farmer has a particular area where the index of growth rate is only 30. Low growth rate could be caused by one factor or a combination of factors such as disease, incorrect moisture, soil compaction, weeds, or others," said Ehsani. "Farmers will also have access to other maps that measure information such as moisture levels. With multiple layers of information from sensors, such as the biomass sensor, pinpointing the cause of the problem will be easier."

The Farm Science Review, sponsored by Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, takes place Sept. 18-20 at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center near London, Ohio. Tickets are $6 at the gate or $4 in advance when purchased from county offices of OSU Extension or agribusinesses. Children 5 and younger are admitted free. Hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sept. 18-19 and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 20.

Candace Pollock
Reza Ehsani