Introduction to Phytomonitoring

The direct monitoring of growing plants, aimed at improvement of the controllable crop factors, is becoming a world standard in precision agriculture, which will change the way Growers will operate in coming decades.

The Phytomonitoring methodology incorporates plant-sensing techniques, sampling rules, measurement protocols, data interpretation and crop-specific application techniques.  The total concept is embedded in modern electronics, data acquisition and communication systems, software and Internet enabled interface.

The system is tailored to the specific world of Growers, in the sense that it is: simple to operate and maintain, can be installed using simple building blocks, can be configured for each Grower demands and is moderately priced.

Phytomonitoring systems are field proven. They have been met with immense enthusiasm by agronomists and farmers in Israel and have been adapted and currently are supported by the Ministry of Agriculture in the country. Records of increased productivity and operational savings have clearly be recorded and translated into hard monetary terms.

The main sections of this document covers the issues of:

q       Place and role of the Phytomonitoring in modern horticulture

q       Application (“how it works for grower’s benefit”)

  

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Place and Role of the Phytomonitoring in Modern Horticulture

Modern agriculture requires customized soil and crop management to enhance the specific conditions within an agricultural field. To meet this demand, a new term, PRECISION AGRICULTURE, is used to define technologies that fully support tailored agricultural practices aimed at higher efficiency and lower impact to the environment. By right, Phytomonitoring technology belongs to the PRECISION AGRICULTURE category.

Phytomonitoring is a specialized real-time information system for horticulture. The purpose of its application is to derive new crop-related information for supporting decision-making processes for climate (where applicable) and irrigation control (Figure 1).

Figure 1. SEQ Figure \* ARABIC
 A grower applies treatments and provides irrigation, fertigation and other manageable environmental regimes. Usually, it is based on direct observations (made also with the use of instruments) and available laboratory tests. The Phytomonitor has become an extraordinarily responsive and informative real-time feedback channel between a grower and cultivated crops, supplementing and redoubling traditional methods.

 

By definition, phytomonitoring is a management information system for crop growing. There are three main functions of the phytomonitoring information system:

  1. Standard reporting
    The system can generate a customized set of measured values and their derivatives, used by a grower in daily control practice. 

  2. Exception reporting (warning)
    The system enables the early detection of unexpected disorders in plants. This function is based on a variety of phytomonitoring indicators of plant physiological disorder.

  3. Decision-support system
    It enables the fine tuning of climate and irrigation regimes by trial-end-error approach. Extremely high sensitivity and short response time of the phytomonitoring channels eliminate the risk of crop damage. A grower can make a little change in a control regime and then he may get a detectable response of plants within 1-2 days. It gives him the high chances to keep only a single variable factor during a trial and also allows to prevent considerable impact in crop state. Phytomonitoring dynamic indicators of plant improvement or deterioration are necessary attributes of such decision-support system.

 

Due to the dynamic and relative character of the phytomonitoring observations, they have high representativeness at limited number of samples. Practically, only a few sample plants are necessary for effective monitoring of large plantations.

 

How It Works

Phytomonitoring technique is crucial for performing the following practical tasks:

  • To detect plant physiological disorders at early stages of their development. Probable causes are the following: improper climate control (if available), irrigation or fertigation regimes, diseases, and pests.

  • To locate the source and to identify possible causes of crop problems. 

  • To disclose the crop physiological response to any environmental changes in short time. It may help a Grower to examine his attempts at improving crop performance or to eliminate problematic crop factors. It also enables a Grower to tune climate, irrigation and fertigation regimes and treatments in a trial-and-error approach (see Figure 6). 

  • To present a Grower both conventional and original integrated and accumulated long-term characteristics of the crop, such as Thermal time (degree/days), Daily integral of solar radiation, Reference evapotranspiration, Leaf surface wetness duration, as well as duration and magnitude of measurable stress conditions (air drought, heat, chilling, soil water stress, etc.)

 

This information is of great importance for estimating and planning the control policy.

 

Figure 2. The Phytomonitoring trial-and-error approach for tuning control regimes. The collected data are converted into plant status indications. A Grower analyses the indications and makes an assumption about subsequent modification of control regime. Further testing of the new regime brings to a new indication of plant status. In many cases, a grower is able to interpret comparison of both indications in terms of positive or negative response to a new regime. Phytomonitoring technique is now rapidly being recognized as a new standard precision farming tool for tuning cultivation regimes in greenhouses and open field crops.

 

Thus, using phytomonitoring technique, a grower becomes able to examine crop conditions in trial-and-error regime and, consequently, to improve crop performance and production during the very first seasons. The phytomonitoring technique may help to avoid rough technological mistakes easily. Also it allows disclosing hardly detectable, accumulated physiological disorders. And in the long run, the phytomonitor enables permanent tuning of climate and irrigation control for better crops and lower costs. It is also a perfect tool for comparative examination of different treatments and materials.