Lalit Verma 2015-06-23 01:04:13
Feeding the future is taken seriously in China, as the ASABE delegation witnessed during the Second International Summit on Precision Agriculture (ISTPA 2014) in Beijing. The opening session provided specific viewpoints on precision agriculture (PA) from the host, Maohua Wang, and invited presenters from the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Belgium, Greece, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. Topics covered included: • Innovative development of strategies for PA • Precision management for both conservation and profitability • PA in the U.K. • PA in agricultural and biological engineering for a sustainable world—how is PA being redefined? • ISOBUS in European PA • “From precision to decision” in modern agriculture • Plant sensing for PA and phenotyping • Aptasensors for rapid detection of pathogens in agriculture • Impedance sensors for soil water content • Quality inspection of seedlings and fruits using chlorophyll fluorescence imaging • Systems informatics and analysis for the agricultural supply chain • Vehicle robotics • The future of PA: designing for farms of tomorrow • Precision livestock farming and dairy farming. Not only were the myriad of topics and presentations current and intriguing, they also pointed out the advances that are being pursued in the academic, private, and public sectors. On the road to PA The second day of the summit took us to northeastern China, first to Harbin, the capital city of Heilongjiang Province, to visit the Heilongjiang Academy of Agricultural Mechanical Engineering and Science, followed by a bus ride to the Hongxing Farm in Beian City. This state-owned farming system in the Heilongjiang reclamation area is a colossal operation, with 113 farms totaling 1.28 million ha (3.16 million acres, covering 51 counties) and 1.7 million workers. About 21 million tons of grain are produced per year, and 98% of the operation is mechanized. In fact, there are about 87,000 tractors, 35,000 combines, 90,000 rice transplanters and related implements, 85 aircraft, and 63 airports, with 200,000 ha (494,211 acres) treated aerially with fertilizers and pesticides. The PA initiative in China began in 2000, when a Chinese delegation visited U.S. manufacturers, including John Deere and Case IH. China began importing U.S. machinery in 2001, and the concept of PA gained acceptance at the farm level just a couple of years later. Auto-guidance of tractors was the most accepted technology, as it increased efficiency by about 40% due to the higher precision. At the Hongxing Farm, all tractors larger than 200 hp now have auto-guidance. In Heilongjiang Province, about 25% of the farmland is managed according to PA, which has resulted in greater yields and productivity. John Deere’s GreenStar system, which depends on ground-level correction (GLC), is used. GLC has a 30 km radial coverage, and a network of GLC stations is being planned. This is just the beginning of the PA wave. Further improvements will include soil sampling and mapping, variable-rate application technology, and auto-guidance of all equipment. Yield monitors will help in identifying yield differences within and among fields, as one sample per hectare is insufficient for precision fertilizer applications. An increase in arable land will also contribute to yield increase, as the yield per unit of land has not increased yet. A bottleneck appears to be the implementation of variable- rate technology in the field. Other elements that are still lacking include: field-scale comparisons of PA with the best practices of conventional farming, soil conservation and management practices, an organized schedule of projects to pursue from field experiments to commercial scale, life cycle analyses, agronomy-based inputs, as well as systems analyses, robotics, and optimization. The Heilongjiang Province Agricultural Machinery Engineering Research Institute in Harbin is one of the entities providing technology for the China PA initiative. Others include the China National Research Center of Intelligent Equipment for Agriculture (NRCIEA), the China National Engineering Research Center for Information Technology in Agriculture (NERCITA), the National Research Center of Intelligent Equipment for Agriculture, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Mechanization Sciences, and agricultural universities throughout China. China’s investments in the PA initiative are impressive, and they are bearing fruit. At the same time, targeted technical conferences and R&D programs at universities and institutes are ongoing. NERCITA was established in 2001 and now has approximately 300 researchers in its 100,000 ft2 facility. NERCITA has also established a 167 ha field site for PA research and demonstrations near Beijing. It has developed large-scale intelligent agricultural implements, a GPS base station, a monitoring station for soil conditions, greenhouse control systems, and a platform for precision fertilization and pesticide application testing—as well as other technologies that are now widely used in China. NRCIEA was established in 2009 to conduct research and development in intelligent agricultural equipment and to establish a digital design and testing platform. Alone, these two entities—charged with providing research, design, development, and manufacturing support for intelligent mechanization—demonstrate the level of commitment to PA in China. The First International Conference on Smart Agriculture Innovative Development (ICSaid 2014) followed ISTPA 2014 during the 18th World Congress of CIGR in Beijing. The CIGR Congress was an impressive showing by our Chinese hosts. The events also allowed ASABE leadership and academic administrators to interact with their counterparts and tour the facilities at China Agricultural University. These interactions richly contributed to ASABE’s Global Engagement Initiative and reinforced the global importance of our profession. Feeding the world in 2050 will greatly depend on the successful adaptation of PA technologies. However, systems that are successful on a large-scale in the developed world will need to be modified using appropriate technologies for application in developing regions that have more constrained resources. The PA initiative in China is a case in which abundant resources—natural, financial, and intellectual—are readily available. Other developing regions do not necessarily have such wealth and will need outside assistance to improve their productivity while sustaining their environment. That’s where we come in. Agricultural and biological engineering is essential for producing more food with the least inputs, and providing this food to the people who need it most. Feeding the future is the grand challenge, and ASABE and our profession have a central role in meeting this challenge. ASABE Fellow and Past President Lalit Verma, Professor and Head, Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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