A University of Nebraska-Lincoln project to support next-generation framework for variable-rate technology, which allows for optimal application of fertilizer and other crop inputs based on soil and crop variations in production agriculture, has received support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The $935,560 USDA grant comes from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.
Variable-rate technology is key to addressing variations in soil makeup, temperature and other variables. Using variable-rate technology can help maximize yield and profit, while minimizing the agricultural inputs or footprints on the environment in agricultural production. Yeyin Shi, assistant professor and agricultural information systems engineering in UNL’s department of biological systems engineering, is leading the cyber physical systems, networking and physical processes enabling the project.
Variable rate fertilizer applications began in the late 1980s, and university research continued during that time with machinery development and field testing. The variable rate application improved the efficiency of farm inputs, maintained or improved crop yield and quality, and protected water quality. Historically, variable rate guidance was based off of triangulation from radio beacons, and GPS technology has improved significantly since then. Today, advanced technology also provides time management, digital farm records and traceability of crop production.
Shi specializes in advanced technology and methodologies to generate, extract, manage and utilize useful data to increase efficiency, quality and sustainability in agricultural production. Shi and her team will integrate stress sensing, networking and data-driven modeling with classic plant and soil biophysical principles and well-recognized management practices, to provide a scalable framework for the real-time in-season variable-rate water and nitrogen applications.
The team plans to utilize the massive amount of data generated in daily agricultural production into a training process for model self-improving, while keeping the farmers’ privacy and computational efficiency in mind.
The new framework will be put to the test at the Eastern Nebraska Research, Extension, and Education Center (ENREEC) near Mead, and a commercial field at Paulman’s Farm near North Platte.
Other Nebraska faculty participating in the grant as co-principal investigators are Yufeng Ge, Daran Rudnick, and Joe Luck in the department of biological systems engineering; Kuan Zhang in electrical and computer engineering, Laila Puntel within agronomy and horticulture, and Yuzhen Zhou from statistics.