NCERA180: Precision Agriculture Technologies for Food, Fiber, and Energy Production
(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)
NCERA180: Precision Agriculture Technologies for Food, Fiber, and Energy Production
Duration: 10/01/2022 to 09/30/2027
Statement of Issues and Justification
By 2050 worldwide demand for food is expected to increase by 70% (UN-FAO, 2009) and demand for energy by more than 40% (DOE-EIA, 2010). To meet these needs, crop producers will need to increase production while being environmentally and economically sustainable. Many future technological improvements need to materialize in order to succeed in this challenging objective to feed a growing global population. One of those areas is the intersection of science and technology for precise management of crop production inputs, this highly articulated intersection is known as Precision Agriculture (PA) and is the central element of NCERA-180.
Over the last century, commercial farming in countries like the US has developed based on increasing use of energy and created the highly mechanized systems of today. Indeed, mechanization has increased the operational efficiency of farming, but it has also created management systems of large scale and tailored to the field-level. Precision agriculture can be interpreted as a paradigm shift and an alternative to field-level crop management. The site-specific crop management components of precision agriculture have solidified since the introduction of sub-meter accuracy Global Positioning Systems (GPS); one such example is the development of yield monitoring technology that began in the mid 1990’s. Since then, precision agriculture has sought to apply innovative technologies and principles to manage variability in crop production with higher spatial resolution. This approach offers the ability to better manage resources, however, the rapid introduction of new technologies and the magnitude of spatial and temporal variation in crop production make it challenging to consistently provide scientifically based PA management strategies.
Growers, equipment manufactures, and service providers have been quick to embrace PA technologies that deliver tangible benefits such as GPS-based guidance, auto-swath and turn compensation. While others such as variable rate application of seed, nutrients, and pesticides, continue to grow despite a lack of scientific information available to correctly define zones and associated inputs and rates. In fact, a majority equipment, input suppliers, retailers and agronomists today are providing a level of prescriptive agriculture services leading producers to face balancing the potential investment in PA technologies with an uncertain return (Erickson & Lowenberg-DeBoer, 2020; Lowenberg-DeBoer & Erickson, 2019; Nowak, 2021; Ofori et al., 2020). The decisions become even more uncertain as newer PA technologies continue to enter the market with little or no scientific understanding regarding proper implementation and no established economic or agronomic benefits.
Sustainably increasing the world’s food supply will require mitigating the effects of shifting weather patterns in the coming years. Climate change has been shown to lead to increasingly extreme weather patterns that threaten crop production systems. In these extreme and uncertain weather patterns, the ability of PA technologies to optimize crop production will be critical to ensuring a stable food and energy supply. Optimizing crop production using PA technologies and will require innovative scientific research to and understanding crop responses to both spatial and temporal factors.
Precision agriculture is broad and constantly evolving field consisting of numerous technologies and approaches to optimizing input utilization crop production. Implementing these technologies and approaches requires a multidisciplinary team. NCERA-180 members and participants represent crop, soil, and weed sciences; entomology, plant pathology, agricultural & biological engineering, applied economics, spatial statistics, data analytics, computer science, and rural sociology. NCERA-180 enables multi-disciplinary communication and interaction among scientists conducting research, education, and Extension activities related to PA. In addition to academics, NCERA-180 encourages stakeholder and practitioners’ involvement including producers and industry representatives to better understand the current state and challenges of PA implementation.
Precision agriculture will only be leveraged to its full potential when stakeholders understand the benefits and limitations of the technologies and techniques deployed. This will require educational and Extension materials to keep pace with the rapid technology development in PA. Because PA is such a broad discipline only relying on the research and experience of specific instructors or extension personnel would likely result in a less than comprehensive curriculum. Materials should be reflective of the state-of-the-art and will require input from a variety of sources including research from experts in multiple disciplines as well as PA equipment manufacturers and service providers.
Promote multidisciplinary collaboration among researchers and industry to leverage PA technologies to improve the environmental and economic sustainability of cropping systems.
Provide insight and direction to industry and funding agencies regarding key challenges facing PA systems.
Improve stakeholder literacy in PA technologies/techniques through the sharing of teaching materials for secondary education and Extension programs.
Procedures and Activities
Meetings will be the primary mechanism used to achieve the stated objectives. This organization of multi-disciplinary, multi-state, and multi-commodity efforts has been the most significant achievement of NCERA-180. Participants and stakeholders will meet annually to discuss potential projects, disseminate research results, and share Extension and educational advancements. Past meetings have drawn large numbers of multi-disciplinary research and stakeholders. To ensure continued participation, lessons learned during the pandemic in virtual and hybrid meetings will be leveraged. Meetings will be organized by the current Chair and will consist of sections focused on stakeholder input, focus area breakouts sessions, research updates, and advances in instructional material. Stakeholder involvement will be a key aspect of the annual meetings and will serve as a chance to both improve PA literacy but also receive input from those we are serving. As the digital agricultural revolution continues to accelerate so too will the opportunities in PA-related activities such as applied research and Extension which are well represented areas of the NCERA-180 committee members. These meetings will be critical to promote efforts in PA and as a community to identify knowledge gaps and specific opportunities. From these meetings, reports will be generated that identify high priority needs that must be addressed by this community to further the stated objectives.
Research priorities will include topics that address sustainability challenges associated with the world’s food and energy needs (e.g., precision management of fertility inputs). Initially participants will focus on two main areas: 1) Variable rate fertilizer application, and 2) PA data utilization. The costs and environmental impacts of fertilizer use make it a key area to target as a controlling mechanism for sustainability. Improving fertilizer use efficiency and the underlying science behind related PA technologies will produce a better understanding of best practices for management zone generation. This is a complex scientific challenge as management zones are often dynamic owning to their basis in weather patterns. An additional priority for this collaborative undertaking is understanding if and how to incorporate the growing number of data streams that are being generated from innovations in remote sensing and Internet of Things (IOT) devices. This will require a multidisciplinary approach from agronomists, bioscience engineers, and soil scientists that the NCERA-180 group is well-positioned to enable. Focus area breakout sessions at the annual meetings will be the primary method of forming the multidisciplinary teams required to address the sustainability challenges associated with Objective 1. In addition to solving the foundational problems, emphasis will be placed on evaluating new technologies and practices that enter the market to ensure that the science supports marketing claims regarding the technology application.
Communication between participants and stakeholders will remain important for promoting multidisciplinary collaboration (Objective 1) and disseminating findings (Objective 3). Plans are to maintain current information on the NIMISS site while taking advantage of communication channels such and popular press articles and social media. These methods allow for the timely dissemination of knowledge to stakeholders and dialog between potential collaborators. Members will continue to have an active role and leadership in many professional organizations including, but not limited to, the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA), the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE), and the so-named “tri-societies” of the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Crop Science Society of America (CSA), and Soil Science Society of America (SSA). We also will continue to be integral in the development and planning of the International Conference on Precision Agriculture (ICPA; http://www.icpaonline.org/) and engage stakeholders at industry-focused technology conferences such as InfoAg. Members will also continue to serve on review panels for the USDA and NSF (Objective 2).
Sharing of information between NCERA-180 participants will be critical to improving stakeholder PA literacy (Objective 3). To help achieve Objective 3, participants will receive access to a communal cloud-based folder where instructional materials and datasets can be shared. The folder will be administered by the current Chair-elect who will solicit material biannually and coordinate related presentations and focus area breakouts sessions at the annual meeting. Educators will disseminate the collected materials to broaden the learning experience for university students. Extension personnel will provide educational opportunities for stakeholders via oral presentations, online media, and fact sheets. Development of regional, national, and international symposia will also be an educational outlet for information gathered by the NCERA-180 committee.
Scientific publications in journals and books will be another important avenue for members to disseminate finding. These include efforts to overcome operational hurdles for future autonomous farm equipment (Czarnecki et al., 2021) field validation of new technologies against adopted standard technologies (Sumner et al., 2021) and development of methodologies that can be used by a broader audience to introduce new users to PA technologies (Wilber et al., n.d.). Members also are pursuing the generation of educational materials (Clay et al., 2017) focused on teaching PA principles.
Expected Outcomes and Impacts
- One primary expected outcome of NCERA-180 is an improved understanding of how precision agricultural technologies and practices can sustainably increase crop production. This outcome includes new scientific knowledge on how practices such as variable-rate application and farm data can improve resource management.
- NCERA-180 will contribute to the improvement of prescriptive agriculture practices through multidisciplinary and multi-state research leading to publications and technology transfer.
- Based upon the reports, discussion, and results of NCERA-180 meetings, industry and funding agencies will better understand the critical gaps in PA technologies and practices. This will help define the direction of future efforts in this space.
- The sharing of educational materials and datasets will result in the improvement of university and college courses by providing a broader perspective and knowledge. Similar sharing will improve Extension efforts and reduce duplication of effort.
Projected ParticipationView Appendix E: Participation
NCERA-180 participants will disseminate information to university students in classroom settings; Extension personnel will provide educational opportunities for state and regional stakeholders via oral presentations, online media, fact sheets and workshops. The NCERA-180 committee will support educators in these endeavors through the free exchange of educational and extension materials including course modules, datasets, and analytical methodologies. Materials that will be provided to educators will be based upon the objectives and expected outcomes of the NCERA-180 committee. Specifics include sharing of course material; Extension information developed for PA programming; and online-delivered information such as videos, glossaries, topical modules containing overview information with examples; and news articles reporting research results. Development of regional, national, and international symposia will also be an educational outlet for information gathered by the NCERA-180 committee.
The recommended Standard Governance for multi-state research activities include the election of a Chair, a Chair-elect, and a Secretary every year. All officers are to be elected for at least two-year terms to provide continuity. Administrative guidance will be provided by an assigned Administrative Advisor and a NIFA Representative.
Clay, D. E., Clay, S. A., & Bruggeman, S. A. (2017). Practical Mathematics for Precision Farming. Wiley Online Library.
Czarnecki, J. M. P., Samiappan, S., Zhou, M., McCraine, C. D., & Wasson, L. L. (2021). Real-Time Automated Classification of Sky Conditions Using Deep Learning and Edge Computing. Remote Sensing, 13(19), 3859. https://doi.org/10.3390/rs13193859
Erickson, B. J., & Lowenberg-DeBoer, J. (2020). 2020 Precision Agriculture Dealership Survey (p. 21). Purdue University, Croplife Magazine. https://ag.purdue.edu/digital-ag-resources/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/CropLife-Report-2020.pdf
DOE-EIA. 2010. International Energy Outlook 2010 - Highlights. Found on-line at http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/highlights.html.
Lowenberg-DeBoer, J., & Erickson, B. (2019). Setting the Record Straight on Precision Agriculture Adoption. Agronomy Journal, 111(4), 1552–1569. https://doi.org/10.2134/agronj2018.12.0779
Nowak, B. (2021). Precision Agriculture: Where do We Stand? A Review of the Adoption of Precision Agriculture Technologies on Field Crops Farms in Developed Countries. Agricultural Research, 10(4), 515–522. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40003-021-00539-x
Ofori, E., Griffin, T., & Yeager, E. (2020). Duration analyses of precision agriculture technology adoption: What’s influencing farmers’ time-to-adoption decisions? Agricultural Finance Review, 80(5), 647–664. https://doi.org/10.1108/AFR-11-2019-0121
Sumner, Z., Varco, J. J., Dhillon, J. S., Fox, A. A. A., Czarnecki, J., & Henry, W. B. (2021). Ground versus aerial canopy reflectance of corn: Red-edge and non-red edge vegetation indices. Agronomy Journal, 113(3), 2782–2797. https://doi.org/10.1002/agj2.20657
UN-FAO. 2009. 2050: A third more mouths to feed. Found on-line at http://www.fao.org/news/story/0/item/35571/icode/en/.
Wilber, A. L., Czarnecki, J. M. P., & McCurdy, J. D. (n.d.). An ArGIS pro workflow to extract vegetation indices from aerial imagery of small plot turfgrass research. Crop Science, n/a(n/a). https://doi.org/10.1002/csc2.20669