Saving resources with precision agriculture


Using smart sensors and measurement techniques to make agriculture more efficient and sustainable is the goal of a team of researchers from TUM.

The central idea of ​​precision agriculture is simple: the more farmers know about soil conditions, weather, plants and animals, the better they can adapt their decisions to the circumstances. With this knowledge and the right technical equipment, it is possible to increase yields while saving resources. For example, if fertilizer is distributed based on plant needs and specific soil conditions, farmers do not need to use a tractor as often, reducing carbon emissions. Therefore, researchers need to collect a large amount of reliable data which can then be analyzed and interpreted. This is one of the main challenges facing this scientific field.

Heinz Bernhardt, Professor of Agricultural Systems Engineering at TUM, and his team have set up connected measurement systems in order to obtain large quantities of reliable data. “Sensory systems in agriculture have to be very robust if, for example, they are attached to agricultural machinery. They must be able to perform accurate measurements regardless of temperature, changes in pH level or mechanical impacts,” he explains. He and his team develop this type of “hardware” components for data collection in fields and barns.

Smart systems save time and resources

Evaluation of LED lighting on sports grounds (left: Prof. Heinz Bernhardt, right: PhD student Andreas Schweiger).

Image: Andreas Heddergott / TUM

One of Bernhardt’s projects involves making silage. “Today, farmers prepare their fodder for silage and after two months they first know if the fermentation worked or if the mold destroyed it – this wastes time and resources,” says- he. Preventing the loss of plants, materials and animals is one of the main goals of precision agriculture, for both economic and ecological reasons, since arable crops and animal husbandry produce a lot of carbon emissions. carbon. So the scientists set up a complex sensor monitoring system to measure oxygen, carbon dioxide and temperature in and on top of the silage. This allows them to accurately record and measure the conditions in the silo during the fermentation process without damaging the lid and trigger an alarm if the conditions have changed.

The team also developed a system to record the health status of calves by measuring things like their temperature, mobility and drinking behavior. Using this technique, they were able to predict early on which calves might become ill or exhibit abnormal behavior. As a result, farmers can use the data to more accurately administer drugs or isolate animals. “Our results show that we could measure changing conditions, to which it was possible to react with greater precision and that is what precision agriculture is,” says Bernhardt.

Smart farming meets engineering

Light sensor for radiation measurement.
Light sensor for radiation measurement.

Image: Andreas Heddergott / TUM

Researchers in Bernhardt’s team are networked with many other scientists working at TUM, including those in the disciplines of computer science, architecture, and electrical and computer engineering, as well as those from other chairs. and institutions focused on agricultural sciences. They are all connected in the Hans Eisenmann Global Center for Farming Systems-Agricultural Science Forum (HEF), which supports cooperation with other agronomic institutions in the TUM Campus Weihenstephan, where it is located, and beyond. “Smart agricultural research is very interdisciplinary and the results can be used all over the world. Most of the materials we use, such as chips and sensors, have been developed in other fields and may be applied for other purposes in the future,” explains Bernhardt.

To create synergy between knowledge from different research areas, doctoral students work together in Bernhardt’s research group. They come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, including agricultural science, horticulture, and engineering. When writing their thesis, doctoral students are supervised by the Weihenstephan Graduate Center (GZW)which also co-organizes annual events on agricultural topics such as the HEFagrar doctoral symposium.

Entrepreneurship as a career opportunity

The three young founders of
The three young founders of “RAISE Agriculture” (from left to right): Magnus Baumann, James Specker and Abir Bhattacharyya.

Image: Magnus Baumann / RAISE Agriculture

Agricultural research at TUM can also lead to a career in innovation as an entrepreneur. If PhD students in Bernhardt’s research team produce promising results or ideas during their thesis, they are always encouraged to consider founding a start-up. With TUM Venture Lab Food-Agro-Biotechthe university supports young agricultural founders in all aspects of their entrepreneurial journey in many technological fields.

The three young founders of the start-up “RAISE Agriculture”, Magnus Baumann, James Specker and Abir Bhattacharyya, are a successful example that evolved from this entrepreneurial innovation hub. The team from Germany, Canada and India reunited after their studies with the help of TUM’s entrepreneurial network and were united by the core idea of ​​changing farming practices for good. They were financially supported by the EXIST seed grant and are developing a camera sensor system for drones, with a connected database, that detects unhealthy plants in the field or invasive weeds using machine learning. automatic and artificial intelligence so that they can be subject to selective treatment.

The software is able to differentiate between thistles (purple marks) and clovers on camera drone recordings.
The software is able to differentiate between thistles (purple marks) and clovers on camera drone recordings.

Image: Magnus Baumann / RAISE Agriculture

“Our innovation helps farmers apply fewer herbicides and pesticides to their fields. Farmers feed people, so we help farmers,” says James Specker. The group collaborates with Kang Yu, TUM Professor for Precision Agriculture, and other agricultural and life science research groups at TUM, as well as farmers inside and outside the laboratory network. After collecting image data using damaged plants from the greenhouse this season, the team wants to start selling their innovation next year. “The system works; we are ready to introduce it to the market,” says Magnus Baumann.

TUM Venture Labs

TUM Venture Labs are new entrepreneurial innovation hubs enhancing the creation of technology-based companies at the interfaces of engineering, natural sciences, life sciences, data science and medicine.

The joint initiative of TUM and UnternehmerTUM, the center for innovation and business creation, accompanies entrepreneurial talents in technological business translation projects from science, offering a complete ecosystem with the necessary environment for business research and development. The center offers expertise ranging from technical and social infrastructure to training and entrepreneurship support to excellent industry and investor networks.

The labs address the following technology areas: Aerospace, ChemSPACE, Built Environment, Robotics/AI, Food-Agro-Biotech, Software/AI, Health, Quantum and Additive Manufacturing. Further TUM Venture Labs are currently planned in the fields of smart mobility and sustainability/bioeconomy/energy.

/Public release. This material from the original organization/authors may be ad hoc in nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author or authors.View Full here.

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