This theme has the strategic aim of informing the electronics community of the needs of modern agronomy and food science to enable engineering of new systems and “e”-devices for reducing waste, increasing yields and improving nutrition. Achievements include the establishment of the Syngenta University Innovation Centre, contribution to the Sustainable Agri-Food panel (Westminster, June 2011), and, with Syngenta and the BBSRC Rothamsted Research Centre, the first-ever successful demonstration in 2013 of a viable wireless sensor for fungal pathogens including Sclerotinia sclerotiorum - the most economically significant monocyclic crop disease in Northern Europe.
Integrating sensors, electronics, control, power systems and ICT engineering into agriculture is a key enabler for delivering improved food supply and sustainable energy production without increased burden on the limited fertile land-bank. This exploitation of non-traditional technologies to improve global farming is extremely timely. In addition to climate change and overpopulation, the westernisation of world diets is producing even greater pressure on agriculture – approximately seven kilograms of grain is required to produce one kilogram of meat. Many of the benefits of fertilisation, irrigation and seed selection have already been realised and a new impetus is required to deliver the necessary yield improvements.
We believe that this impetus will come from sensor and ICT based control processes applied to agricultural processes. Electronics in agriculture research addresses the needs and problems of all stakeholders in agriculture sector, from the farm to the shop: farmers and growers; seed and chemical providers; food logistics providers; agricultural machinery and equipment providers; food processors; suppliers and wholesalers; and retailers. For each of these stakeholder groups, sensing and ICTs offer benefits to improve practices, raise yields, reduce costs, raise profit margins, secure food supplies, and address the sustainability of the sector.
The introduction of electronics in agriculture technologies into Agri-Food research, products and services requires new academic partnerships to be fostered across the University and elsewhere. The activity is managed by a cross disciplinary, industry and academic steering team which will also be tasked with delivering the longer term e-Agri strategy.
Currently, the following are the areas are under development:
Sensing above the crop
- Hyper-weeding: On tractor hyperspectral sensors for high-speed detection and eradication of weeds
- Crop disease detection for smallholder farmers
- Wheatscan: Minimising carbon footprint and greenhouse gases from wheat farming through real-time hyperspectral mapping of protein in the crop
- SYield: Sensors to protect crop yield – networked biosensors to mimic crop fungal pathogens and defend against disease
- Graphene biosensors to emulate the receptors in plant and insect cells
Sensing below the roots
- Low cost networked soil moisture sensors to dynamically map the fluxes in moisture across field
- Reusable nutrient sensors to control phosphates and nitrates in commercial hydroponic farming
- Cheap hydrogel sensors for agriculturally available soil moisture
- Electrical impedance tomography for in-situ 3D mapping nutrient uptake and soil architecture
- Science behind ‘sell by dates’: Plastic electronic thermal sensors for printable RFIDs to track the perishable goods supply chain
- Non-invasive fruit grading and phenotyping using electromagnetic tomography
There are number of academics in the School that are currently have direct research activities in e-Agri:
- Professor Trevor York (EIT subsoil and other areas)
- Professor Krikor Ozanyan (terahertz imaging of crops)
- Mr Peter Green (RFIDs for livestock and seeds, plough-able sensors)
- Dr Danielle George (RF attenuation for monitoring crop growth?)
- Professor Zhipeng Wu (microwave sensing of food production lines)
- Professor Barry Lennox (data mining of crop pathogen spread)
- Dr Daniel Ka Chun So (co-supervision of wireless rice irrigation sensors)
- Dr Zac Coldrick – Research Associate
- Dr Simon Hammersley – Research Associates
- Chris Storer – PhD student
- Rob Hayes – PhD student
- Stefan Goodwin – PhD student
- Najib Lawal – PhD student