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Agri-Photonics: The Future of Smart Farming

1000 Brussels

Photonics, technologies working to harness and generate light, have numerous applications across a variety of industries. One such industry is Agriculture, in which photonics are applied when implementing precision agriculture, the practice of ‘smart farming’ that monitors, observes and measures crop health using advanced technologies.

Both farmers and farming techniques have adapted over time in order to overcome new challenges and increase productivity and quality. Agri-Photonics are a part of this adaptation and advancement, and are used to predict and monitor several variables and outcomes.

Specific examples include the use of optical and photonic technologies to help with the prediction of protein levels, determine optimum harvesting times, map water quality, screen crops for contaminants and monitor overall soil health. The applications mentioned above allow for the harvesting of valuable data, which can be used by farmers to predict future yields, closely monitor crop health and ultimately make better strategic decisions before going to market.

General monitoring as a result of photonics provided data is very useful for farmers, but further specific agricultural applications have important industrial ramifications. On such example is the use of laser scintillation to monitor heat flux in agricultural fields. By monitoring the heat flux levels of evapotranspiration can be tracked, which are important for overall soil moisture levels. Another example is the use and development of hyperspectral image sensors which are capable of detecting invasive diseases, irrigation levels and fertiliser effectiveness. By making such sensors airborne (i.e. attaching them to aircraft), they are able to record a variety of data which could protect yields normally lost to almost undetectable invasive diseases or other factors. 

Not only has the application of photonics in agriculture allowed for more effective farming practices, but has also impacted on the ability of a farmer to predict and take precautions where necessary. An industry which was very unpredictable, and is still the main livelihood of many today is becoming more secure and steady through the application of an advanced technology.