nitrogen deficiency in corn Sentera
CLOSER VIEW: Rather than using satellite imagery, small unmanned aerial vehicles are used to scan cornfields for possible nitrogen deficiencies.

Sentera licenses U-M nitrogen-deficiency tech

UAVs scan fields to pinpoint N-deficit sites, allowing for more efficient nitrogen applications.

Sentera, a remote-sensing tech company in Minneapolis, recently signed an agreement to bring corn nitrogen deficiency technology developed by the University of Minnesota to the market.

The technology allows growers to more precisely match applied nitrogen fertilizer to the optimal needs of the crop.

Minimizing overapplication of nutrients saves money; reduces the risk of fertilizer runoff into lakes, streams and rivers; and preserves crop yield.

Under an exclusive agreement, Sentera will integrate the capability into its FieldAgent Platform, a software using drone technology to advance precision agriculture. The company will begin field trials with several of its largest customers this year, with commercial rollout planned for 2019.

“Nitrogen management is one of the primary controllable cost components for corn growers,” according to Sentera CEO Eric Taipale in a press release. “This technology enables tailored management practices aided by a real-time estimate of nitrogen status. Real-time feedback into existing prescription models delivers further refinement and reduces risk to the grower while improving their bottom line.”

The technology, developed through U-M research with support from the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, detects nitrogen stress in corn using computer vision techniques that recognize characteristic features on plant leaves. The frequency and appearance of these features correlate directly to nitrogen deficiency. Deficiency information is subsequently fed into models that incorporate other weather and soil information to generate a prescription to address the issue.

“The correct application of nitrogen is a critical variable in crop success and keeping agricultural practices from harming our environment,” says David Mulla, soil and water resources professor, U-M College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. “Working with Sentera allows us to move the research we’ve done at the University of Minnesota into the hands of farmers quickly and efficiently. Producers will be able to be far more accurate in their fertilizer application, saving them money and keeping nitrogen out of the water.

Next generation nitrogen detection
Nitrogen stress in crops has generally been identified via more expensive manual techniques, or by using remote-sensing technology that cannot distinguish between nitrogen and other crop stressors, such as diseases, pests or other nutrient problems. In contrast, this technology can diagnose a nitrogen issue directly.

“The University of Minnesota is a leader in automated sensing technology, pioneering new methods for solving difficult problems,” says Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos, a U-M computer science professor. “It’s exciting to see this technology being licensed and developed locally, and it’s another indication of Minnesota’s growing strength — academic and commercial — in the area of sophisticated sensing and analysis.”

Go online to learn more about the U-M technology. 

Source: University of Minnesota

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