Precision Sustainable Agriculture
The Grand Challenge
Feeding 10 billion people by 2050 will require transformative changes to our food production systems. Water scarcity, herbicide-resistant weeds, climate change, and declining soil and water quality are increasing crop production risks, lowering yields, and negatively impacting the environment. Increased use of sustainable agricultural practices, such as reduced-tillage, diversified crop rotations and integrated weed management in tandem with cover crops is necessary to achieve this goal. However, farmers repeatedly cite management complexity and a need for site- and system-specific information to aid in our transition to sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable agriculture demands precision tools to account for genetic and environmental nuances in complex, adaptive, agricultural systems, while simultaneously responding to the complex social, technological, and economic contexts of farming.
There is a need to integrate knowledge-intensive sustainable agricultural practices into a precision framework to maximize farm productivity, profitability, and sustainability. This is accomplished through the use of an information ecology that connects farms, data, tools, and people for optimal, real-time decisions.
- On-farm monitoring,
- Technology (remote sensing, machine learning, and low-cost sensors)
- Decision support tools, models, and analytical tools
- Communication and data sharing platforms for research, extension, and education
- Networks of researchers, farmers, and agricultural professionals
On Farm Research Field Kits
To address management complexity, Precision Sustainable Agriculture requires climate-, soil-, and management- specific information. This is accomplished through broad scale application of real-time, on-farm monitoring. We have developed low-cost sensing and imaging systems to measure how cover crop performance influences crop drought stress, water infiltration, nutrient release, weed-crop competition, and crop yields. Our large-scale on-farm research project currently includes 135 farms across the US.
Connected to the farm. Our on-farm and on-station data is the underpinning of decision tools that inform farmer management decisions about cash and cover crops, water, nitrogen, and weeds. These tools help farmers better allocate resources and labor, increase efficiency, and cut costs, while sustainably improving soil health and conserving water resources.
Connected to the environment. We are developing adaptive decision support tools that integrate climate, soil, and landscape spatial dynamics into recommendations. This involves harmonizing data collected at different scales, from in-field to remote-sensed, using a diverse set of modeling and machine learning techniques, and deploying our tools as open-source modules for use by the wider community.
Connected to the government. We work with government agencies to link our data and decision tools to their services (state- and national-level cost-share, incentive programs, and crop insurance), and to inform policy makers, farmers (education and decision making), and agricultural professionals.