Precision Agriculture and Environmental Technologies

Dr. Mike Duncan knows all about the promise and potential benefits of combining agriculture and “big data”. For the past six years, he has worked with government, technology companies, and farming partners to develop a computerized planning system for precise planting and pest control. Duncan’s aim is to improve the growers’ ability to produce higher quality food, and obtain higher crop yields with better environmental stewardship and reduced costs.

The best opportunity to maximize production from currently farmed land is by increasing the yield. Precision agriculture aims to increase yield, while decreasing fertilizer inputs, which reduces costs, increases revenue, and minimizes environmental impact. Dr. Duncan and his team have developed a variety of web applications that provide real-time data, mapping, map analysis, and farmer guidance.

Precision Agriculture Automatic, or PrAgMatic, is an integrated system being developed by Dr. Duncan and a research team at Niagara College that collects and synthesizes relevant farm data from GPSand sensor-enabled combines and spreaders and provide useful and timely information for the grower.

Dr. Duncan has been studying atmospheric and farm field variability, the two biggest factors in determining crop health, as well as potential and realized yields. Agricultural researchers have found a connection between field topography and crop yield variability, and Dr. Duncan’s work is using this concept to define several management zones within a field that need to be planted and maintained differently for maximum yield.

Two of Dr. Duncan’s farm partners have been tracking and using management zones to great advantage over the last decade. With these partners and collaborators from Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, Dr. Duncan’s team is developing tools to map management zones. These tools operate on data from satellite photographs and sophisticated UAV-based LiDAR and multi-spectral sensors. The team’s work is now at the stage where it can be applied with growers and crop consultants to increase their productivity and competitiveness.

Through an Applied Research Tools and Instruments Grant, the team recently acquired a start-of-the-art server and disk system, and a world-class computer engine to properly apply and test precision agriculture theories with 15 to 30 growers in a quick data turnaround. At the end of the project, the algorithms and the system will be developed into an automated entity that has the capacity to process data from thousands of farms in a timely manner.

In 2002, Dr. Duncan was one of the first recipients of an Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT) grant for colleges. He received funding for an NSERC College and Community Innovation (CCI) pilot projects and was one of the first CCI research awardees in 2009 for research on land-use technologies. He received of the ORION Discovery award for his GPS data analyzing system, PrAgMatic, that has been the focus of his research as Industrial Research Chair.

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