Light Sensors Improve Nitrogen Use Efficiency


Researchers from University of Minnesota used active canopy sensor to improve nitrogen use efficiency with minimal environmental risks

Insufficient nitrogen leads to reduced crop yields, whereas excessive use of nitrogen fertilizer can have adverse effects on the environment. Excessive nitrogen mixes with water streams and can pollute aquatic ecosystems. Moreover, excess nitrogen can be converted into nitrous oxide by microbes, which further increases greenhouse gas emission. A team of researchers from University of Minnesota is focused on exploring ways to efficiently manage nitrogen in agriculture. The team compared several approaches and found that one approach of active canopy sensor-based nitrogen management is the most efficient.

Sensor-based nitrogen management relies on light sensors to actively monitor crop health and vitality. The sensors measure different wavelengths of light that are emitted by crop leaves. These measurements serve as proxies for crop health. The software in the sensor uses field measurements to calculate the amount of nitrogen required for the crops. Farmers can use these data to apply ideal amounts of nitrogen to crops. According to Yuxin Miao, an agronomist at the University of Minnesota, the system’s objective is to ‘match nitrogen supply with crop nitrogen demand’, which allows crops to access nitrogen fertilizers exactly when most required, thereby increasing crop yields.

The new approach has several benefits compared to other nitrogen management strategies as it reduces overall nitrogen fertilizer application, according to Miao. The approach also decreases nitrogen loss into the environment and lowers nitrous oxide emissions, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emission. Moreover, the use of canopy sensor-based systems offers fast and non-destructive approach and there are no additional costs beyond purchasing the sensors. The latest models of sensors are not influenced by environmental light, which suggests that farmers can get an accurate measurement irrespective of the weather conditions. The approach can also reduce the use of nitrogen fertilizers, thereby lowering production costs and increasing economic returns. The technology was presented in the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Agronomy and Crop Science Society of America held during November 4-7, 2018 in Maryland, U.S.


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