Editorial

I&M for Farmers
Wendy Van Moer

My great grandfather was a farmer. He owned a horse, a carriage and a piece of land. By working very hard seven days a week and twenty-four hours a day, he made sure that there was food on the table for his family every day. This is only a century away, and since then a lot has changed.

Nowadays, farmers are more and more engineers. They use modern instrumentation and perform accurate measurements every day. These efforts improve the yield and its quality to be able to feed 7.4 billion mouths.

In this issue of our Magazine, you can find the latest technologic developments in the field of farming. Keep in mind that without continuous research in this field of science, the world would be very hungry.

Our guest editor for this issue is Dr. Samir Trabelsi. Dr. Trabelsi is a Research Electronics Engineer and Lead Scientist of the Dielectrics Group, Quality and Safety Assessment Research Unit (USDA ARS). He also holds an adjunct Associate Research Scientist position with the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Georgia. His research involves the development of methods and sensors or rapid and nondestructive determination of bulk density and moisture content in granular and particulate materials, measurement, and modeling of dielectric properties of water containing materials at RF and microwave frequencies.

It was a great pleasure and honor to work with him on this issue, and I would like to take the opportunity to thank him for his dedication and valuable time.


Groetjes, Wendy

Guest Editorial
New Technologies in Agriculture

Samir Trabelsi

By 2050, the world population is projected to increase by 35% to approximately 9.7 billion, and crop production needs to double to feed that population according to a United Nations report.
Historically, to meet such challenges, the solution has been to clear more land and grow more crops, which increases the constraints on available resources and negatively impacts our fragile planet. This solution may not be sustainable, given thegfact that our planet is facing changes in climate patterns with destructive weather and prolonged periods of drought. Therefore, alternative solutions must be found to balance food security, world stability, and sustainability for future generations.

The most obvious solutions to having sufficient food consist of reducing food material losses, eliminating waste, and changing our diet, especially in rich and developing countries. In fact, every year, roughly one third of the food produced is lost or wasted, and obesity among children and adults is on the rise. However, these solutions require behavioral changes and sustained educational campaigns to improve understanding of the long-term implications of not addressing these issues.

On another level, the food challenge can be addressed by developing new plant varieties and new animal breeds, new farming strategies, better management of natural resources, and smart farming systems. Today, there are many available technologies that can be integrated within the food production systems to improve yields and quality and minimize food losses. There is no doubt that tools such as artificial intelligence, robots, machine vision, drones, and all kinds of sensors will revolutionize farming the same way mechanization did in the past century. The question is how fast these tools will be adopted by farmers, processors, and regulators. It is not always the cost that is the barrier but rather a business mentality that is comfortable with the status quo.

I remember how reluctant the staff was at a peanut buying station in southwest Georgia (USA) when we presented to them for the first time our microwave moisture meter for in-shell peanuts. The meter provided instantaneously the peanut pod and kernel moisture contents, without having to shell the peanuts, from measurement of the dielectric properties at a single microwave frequency. We had to demonstrate the microwave moisture meter at several peanut farmers' shows and provide free testing at different buying stations before farmers and processors admitted, “This is the most valuable innovation in the peanut grading process we have seen in the last fifty years.”

Today, excitement about this technology led the peanut inspectors to look into the idea of overhauling the entire peanut grading process and take advantage of modern technologies. This technology, along with other technologies for real-time sensing of moisture content and other physical properties of interest, will contribute in significantly reducing losses because of spoilage and poor post-harvest practices. In many ways, sensors implemented on combine harvesters, irrigation systems, in storage facilities, and other systems will provide growers with valuable information for sound decision making to optimize land and resource usage. This, in turn, will render agriculture more sustainable and much better positioned to feed the planet's population without harming the environment.

In this issue a sampler is presented of technologies with concrete potential to address the challenges facing agriculture and food needs for a growing global population. These technologies will reshape the agri-business landscape and allow all players in this field to achieve their goals in terms of both quantity and quality while preserving the well being of our planet. Take for example the use of drones for high throughput phenotyping as presented in the paper by Aaron Patrick and his colleagues. Use of such technology, combined with multispectral imaging, allowed them to collect important data on 20 genotypes of peanuts to distinguish those resistant to tomato spot wilt disease from those susceptible to it. This will have significant impact in terms of production and quality. Other agricultural applications of drone-based technology are expected in a wide range of issues, including soil and root structure characteristics, yield monitoring, fertilizer usage, and resource management. Early detection technology can be instrumental in limiting waste because of spoilage. In their article, Speir and Haidekker use computed tomography (CT) for early detection of bacterial and fungal infections in onions.
Ultimately, the CT scanners will be used in onion packing houses for automated quality assessment. This will enhance the onion quality and avoid considerable produce losses. Similarly, three-dimensional imaging with conventional 24 GHz Frequency-Modulated Continuous Wave (FMCW) radar was applied for detecting and remotely estimating the intra-parcel quantity of grapes as explained in the paper by Dominique Henry and co-authors. Further refinement of this technology will lead to its use for other crops and will certainly play an important role in precision agriculture.

In terms of quality control and management strategies, sensors play a major role because they provide growers and processors with real-time information for sound decision making. Moisture content is the single most critical parameter for optimizing harvest conditions and safe storage for many agricultural and food commodities. It is also important for fair pricing, and hence it has direct impact on revenue. Three of the papers presented in this issue deal with methods and sensors for routine nondestructive and instantaneous measurement of moisture content. In their paper, Cataldo et al. showcase the use of Time Domain Reflectometry (TDR) for moisture content determination. Similarly, Singh and Fielke use multiple humidity and temperature sensors to monitor moisture content in grain storage. Finally, in the paper by Shrestha and his colleagues, artificial neural networks were used for moisture determination independent of bulk density in herbaceous biomass from measurement of dielectric properties at microwave frequencies.

All of these technologies have the advantage of being versatile and flexible, and therefore they can be applied to a wide spectrum of agricultural needs and bring about a balance between increasing agriculture output and preserving the planet ecosystems.

 

 

 

ATI Industrial Automation

MegaPhase

Trimble Navigation Limited

Astronics Test Systems

Marvin Test Systems

Mini-Circuits

Omega Engineering, Inc.

Virginia Panel Corporation

Robotdalen

Astronics DME Corportation

Pickering Interfaces Inc.

RADX Technologies, Inc.

Zurich Instruments AG

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