August 12, 2019

UA research farm using automation to innovate industry

The Maricopa Agricultural Center is a testing ground for precision agriculture.

While some view automation as a way to drive innovation in growing municipalities, in Arizona’s farming fields the technology is also helping researchers break new ground. Arizona 360 saw what role automation has in modern-day farming at the Maricopa Agricultural Center where the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is finding ways to advance what’s known as precision agriculture. The term refers to farmers’ increased use of technology to improve their efficiency. Engineer Pedro Andrade-Sanchez explained how automation’s integration with existing technology is happening at a gradual pace.

“Consequences of a sudden change can also be negative. We want to be building, building for technology that really solves problems and helps our stakeholders in Arizona,” Andrade-Sanchez said.

Machines tested at the Maricopa Agricultural Center include a planter that can automatically adjust how deep it plants seeds based on data about a field’s soil composition. Data used to program automated equipment is gathered by other machines equipped with sensors, cameras and navigation systems.

“At the rate we can cover the field with this machine and other machines like it, it’s nearly impossible to measure with such high resolution and precision, as opposed to a whole group of people trying to do those exact same measurements, said John Heun, an engineer with the university.

The benefits this type of data provides are both economic and environmental. When growers can narrow down problem areas in their fields, they can scale back on the amount of fertilizers or pesticides used to treat crops.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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