Corn and potato crops may soon provide information to farmers about when they need water and how much should be delivered, thanks to a University of Colorado at Boulder invention optioned to AgriHouse Inc., a Berthoud, Colo., high-tech company.
The technology includes a tiny sensor that can be clipped to plant leaves charting their thickness, a key measure of water deficiency and accompanying stress, said Research Associate Hans-Dieter Seelig of CU-Boulder's BioServe Space Technology Center. Data from the leaves could be sent wirelessly over the Internet to computers linked to irrigation equipment, ensuring timely watering, cutting down on excessive water and energy use and potentially saving farmers in Colorado millions of dollars per year, he said.
"We think this is an exciting technology, and the implications for the agriculture industry are enormous," said Seelig. Based in large part on Seelig's 2005 CU-Boulder doctoral thesis in aerospace engineering sciences, the technology was optioned to AgriHouse in March by the University of Colorado Technology Transfer Office, giving AgriHouse the exclusive right to negotiate a license with CU within 12 months.
Richard Stoner, AgriHouse founder and president, said existing technology like soil moisture sensors used to assess a crop's water needs do not always provide an accurate picture of existing plant and field conditions. "What we are developing is a non-intrusive device that gently rests on the plants and lets them interface with the digital world," he said. "Basically, this is a device that will allow plants to talk to humans and communicate their needs, like when to water and apply fertilizer."
Stoner is the principal investigator on a $150,000 Small Business Technology Transfer research grant awarded in May by the National Science Foundation to AgriHouse to develop the new technology. Seelig is an institutional investigator on the effort. In 2006, Seelig was
Contact: Hans Seelig
University of Colorado at Boulder