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Airbus and John Deere partner to observe nitrogen uptake

Satellite imagery provider Airbus Defence and Space and John Deere have teamed up to continuously observe nitrogen uptake by the crop in each part of the field during the growing season. This so-called Live NBalance tool was rewarded with a SIMA Silver Medal.

According to both companies, this is the first tool that enables live monitoring of nitrogen balance in the field. John Deere says “Today, N or NH4 prescription maps have become more common. None however documents and visualises the actual N-uptake and the development of the crop continuously and in a site-specific fashion. The most common way to estimate N use efficiency (NUE) comes post-harvest, with harvester sensors and lab samples measuring protein content in the grain - when it is already too late to react.” The company also says that there’s a few other companies proposing N-uptake follow-up solutions that are rather technical, require soil sampling, human intervention and can’t account for geospatial variation in weather implications, drought, pests and animal damage.

According to Airbus Defence and Space and John Deere, both companies have developed the first tool that enables live monitoring of nitrogen balance in the field.  Photo: Visual Services-East Moline
According to Airbus Defence and Space and John Deere, both companies have developed the first tool that enables live monitoring of nitrogen balance in the field. Photo: Visual Services-East Moline

Whereas the Live NBalance tool is said to be the first solution to automatically gather:

  • Machinery data of as-applied maps both of organic and mineral nitrogen
  • Satellite N-uptake maps to measure live the N-uptake at intra-field scale, without the bias of sampling, and at a lower cost with the Sentinel2 satellite constellation and Airbus capability to derive chlorophyll content directly from satellite imagery
  • Combine harvester yield and constituents’ maps for the after-season N balance

This is how

The Live NBalance tool allows farmers to enter the available nitrogen content at the start of the growing season. The nitrogen and NH4-N content of organic fertilisers can be measured precisely by the John Deere Manure Sensing System using the HarvestLab 3000 NIR system on a slurry tanker. During the growing season, satellite images observe the crop’s development and provide details of the total nitrogen uptake over time. Non-uniform uptake rates and delays in plant growth can also be identified, and the farmer is able to see how much nitrogen is still available to the crop at any time, or if the plants aren’t getting enough. This information helps avoid excess fertiliser being applied to the field.

At harvest, the HarvestLab 3000 sensor measures the nitrogen content in the crop for the season’s N balance and the total of nitrogen applied and removed is summarised ready for regulatory use. Farmers therefore receive more reliable feedback on the efficiency of their fertiliser applications.

At harvest, the HarvestLab 3000 sensor measures the nitrogen content in the crop for the season’s N balance and the total of nitrogen applied and removed is summarised ready for regulatory use. Photo: Michel Velderman
At harvest, the HarvestLab 3000 sensor measures the nitrogen content in the crop for the season’s N balance and the total of nitrogen applied and removed is summarised ready for regulatory use. Photo: Michel Velderman

Prototyping in wheat

John Deere currently doesn’t offer the HarvestLab 3000 sensor on other harvesting machines than on its forage harvesters. The Live NBalance tool however is being prototyped in wheat and this means that the company can’t have the estimation of the N-uptake as HarvestLab is not available on wheat. It is therefore investigating its capabilities to estimate the N-Uptake on grass and silage corn to quickly have a solution available on the market.