Farmers have the opportunity to learn about the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index using the GreenSeeker Handheld Crop Sensor.
Trimble, a global company that specializes in GPS technology, has taken the GreenSeeker Crop Sensor and simplified it to reduce cost and increase its applications.
“We’re trying to get the GreenSeeker to more of a mass market,” said Micah Eidem, market manager for Trimble’s Agriculture Division. “We have launched a product that has a lowered price, so farmers can use and understand how their crops are performing in the field.”
In 2003, NTech Industries released the GreenSeeker optical-based sensing system. This allowed farmers to side-dress fertilizer based on the vigor of the crop, known as “nitrogen sensing.”
The GreenSeeker system was integrated with spray control equipment that included internal GPS guidance.
The optical-based device read the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and relayed that information to a computer in the tractor or sprayer cab.
Based on algorithms and software coding, the computer then sent information to the Field-IQ system regarding how much fertilizer to apply based on pre-set parameters.
NTech joined the Trimble team in 2009, and the GreenSeeker technology was integrated into the Trimble precision ag portfolio.
Trimble’s FmX integrated display computer allows “nitrogen sensing,” but Trimble wanted to make the GreenSeeker useable to lots of farmers.
Company officials reasoned that by making an affordable device, farmers could learn more about NDVI readings across their field. Farmers could then make decisions about how they want to use NDVI information.
“What we did was took a step back and talked to farmers in the Wheat Belt as well as the Corn Belt,” Eidem said. “What we found is a lot of them didn’t understand that NDVI is a measure of the vigor of the plant, and what knowing NDVI would do for them.”
The new product – the GreenSeeker Handheld Crop Sensor – gives farmers the ability to go out to their field and measure how various spots in the fields are performing.
Farmers can then use that information to decide on how much nitrogen to side dress on their fields.
Trimble put together a guide that “walks” the customer through the use of the handheld GreenSeeker.
Upon pulling the GreenSeeker “trigger,” a sensor turns on, emits brief bursts of red and infrared light, and then measures the amount of each type of light that is reflected back at the sensor.
The strength of the detected light is a direct indicator of the plant’s vigor.
The sensor displays the measured value in terms of an NDVI reading on an LCD screen. The reading can range from 0.00 to 0.99. The higher the reading, the healthier the plant.
The farmer takes a reading from a strip of crop vegetation that has plenty of nitrogen. The reading is taken about 24-48 inches above the plant.
Then the farmer goes into the field. The GreenSeeker displays a ratio of how the NDVI measurements compare to the nitrogen-rich strip.
They can use that information as they wish to understand their crops.
If they are considering side dressing the crop, Trimble has created a fertilizer estimation chart. The company worked with Oklahoma State University to create the chart for use in spring wheat, winter wheat, dry land corn, irrigated corn, barley, triticale, sorghum and canola.
“The Fertilizer Estimation Chart will actually steer you down a path of how much fertilizer they could apply based on the difference between the nitrogen-rich strip and the field,” he said. “The farmer can decide to use the information, or not.”
Eidem believes that farmers will appreciate and use the new NDVI information for more knowledgeable fertilizer application decisions.
While the 2012 season for side-dressing crops is now complete in the northern United States, Trimble made the decision to release the handheld crop sensor in August.
Farmers in South America can use the device for the 2012/13 growing season. For instance, coffee beans are found in coffee cherries that grow on trees, and are raised by hand. The Handheld GreenSeeker could serve as a tool to help farmers understand the health of the trees.
Eidem expects farmers will find many ways to use the NDVI information to make production decisions.
“As long as the information can have ground-truth to a nutrient or a pest or disease, this tool gives you the ability to measure those differences,” he said. “That’s the biggest factor. Using a visual assessment of the plant is somewhat subjective. This gives a more objective view.”
The GreenSeeker Handheld Crop Sensor has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $495. It does not contain a computer, recording device or reading card.
Eidem added that longer term, Trimble plans to develop technologies and products as add-ons to work with the handheld crop sensor. Short-term, he encourages farmers to learn more about the GreenSeeker Handheld Crop Sensor.
“We have several units that are making the rounds with our regional folks,” Eidem said. “We’ll continue to show this all the way through next spring.”