Mapping Tools Offer Farmers a Big Picture View of Crop Management  

When moving through a field row by row, weed by weed, it can be hard for farmers to see the big picture.

Researchers from GROW and PSA (Precision Sustainable Agriculture) are working to create publicly available mapping tools that will change that.

It all starts with low-cost camera systems, explains Steven Mirsky, a research ecologist with USDA-ARS and PSA lab director. By taking images of weeds and cover crops from every angle, researchers are training computers to identify and measure them in seconds, as a tractor-mounted camera moves across a field. The result is detailed maps of weed species or cover crops – not only the species, but also the size (biomass) and variability across the field.

Farmers can use this information to target and control weeds and even fine-tune a field’s fertility with greater precision and fewer inputs – a key step in a more sustainable, productive agricultural system. Mapping tools can also offer growers a better assessment of whether a farm’s weed or fertility management programs are actually working as designed.

Listen in as Mirsky explains how and why GROW and PSA researchers are tackling this technology:

Video by Claudio Rubione, GROW; text by Emily Unglesbee, GROW