Intelligent Farm aims to help farmers’ decision-making

By Peter Kent

Intelligent FarmFor centuries, farmers managed their crops by picking up handfuls of soil, walking fields looking for insects or disease, and watching the weather.

In the digital age, there’s a new row to hoe. Computers, satellites, field sensors and cell towers can provide real-time information to improve decision-making and enhance farm prosperity, environmental sustainability and food security.

Welcome to the Intelligent Farm®.

Clemson researchers are working to create the Intelligent Farm to provide the latest tools to growers and consultants, such as Clemson Extension agents and specialists, who can make better-informed decisions about where and how much water and fertilizer are needed.

Funded in part by the Clemson Experiment Station with resources from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the state of South Carolina, researchers with Clemson’s Institute of Computational Ecology expect to realize dramatic benefits. Previous research on targeted applications has shown savings of 15 percent savings for water and 25 percent for energy, leading to increased farm profits.

Nitrogen, an essential fertilizer, poses a special challenge. Industrially produced nitrogen fertilizer is costly to both farmers and the environment if overused. Sensor-based, site-specific application at variable rates can reduce nitrogen use by 47 percent — 75,200 tons — and save S.C. farmers $30 million, Intelligent Farm researchers say.

At the Edisto Research and Education Center in Blackville, agricultural engineer Ahmad Khalilian is one of the lead scientists for this project. A pioneer in precision agriculture, Khalilian developed the concept of variable-rate nematicide application based on soil type. Using global positioning systems (GPS) linked to soil electrical-conductivity meters, the technology enables farmers to apply nematicides only where needed. The destructive microscopic worms cause more than $300 million in cotton crop losses each year.

The Intelligent Farm is a spinoff from Clemson’s Intelligent River® initiative. The National Science Foundation awarded $3 million to Clemson in 2011 to develop and deploy a network of sensors to monitor water quality along the 312-mile length of the Savannah River.

Learn more about the Intelligent Farm:

www.clemson.edu/public/ecology/project_ifarm.htm