Precision Agriculture

Implementation of remote sensing solutions for environmentally sustainable agricultural production.

Estonia has joined forces with the European Space Agency. Therefore, we have access to satellite photos where the European Space Agency receives information on the cultivation conditions of arable crop. This provides information to adopt decisions quickly and objectively and to realise these decisions either by additional fertilization or no fertilization.

The aim of the activity is to base the calculation of the nutrient need of arable crop during farming and the compilation of fertilisation maps on remote sensing data—to optimise the quantity of fertilizers for a field. The remote surveillance data is used in parallel with the soil surveillance data for a high-quality field-based analysis in the compilation of fertility maps, which enables to reduce the amount of excess nutrients to be added to the soil, where these might leach.

Estonia has joined forces with the European Space Agency. Therefore, we have access to satellite photos where the European Space Agency receives information on the cultivation conditions of arable crop. This provides information to adopt decisions quickly and objectively and to realise these decisions either by additional fertilization or no fertilization.

Cover Crops

Materials : Cover crops.pdf

Elaboration of the blends of species suitable to cultivate as cover crop after main crop and of the agricultural technique suitable for its cultivation.

The soil is left without surface cover after the early arable crops. This is accompanied by the leaching of nutrients into surface water and ground water. One possibility to reduce the leaching losses is to cultivate the cover crops, which would fix the ions and water in the soil and, conclusively, would reduce the leaching. To increase the winter surface coverage, it is important to cultivate wintering cover crops, the suitability of the species is limited in our climate. Therefore, we study the wintering cover crops growing in Europe, which could be grown in Estonia as well (such as hairy fetch, winter pea, and sainfoin).

Blends compiled from different plant species offer the most possibilities, the advantages of which are the following:

  • Reduction of cultivation risks
  • Reduction of nutrient leaching
  • Increase of soil coverage (erosion reduces)
  • Enhancement of biological variety

As the dynamics of the growth rate is different for plants per species, a larger quantity of biomass is presumably possible to cultivate when it comes to blends. The results of the studies with cover crops conducted elsewhere cannot be generalized to other conditions of soil and climate. Therefore, it is necessary to study the capability of forming biomass of the cover crops in the conditions in Estonia. Moreover, the speed of the formation of the biomass of the cover crops is influenced with different inputs (biological stimulators, liquid manure, etc.).

On the basis of tests, it is ascertained if it is possible to make the biological activity of the soil and the hydro-physical characteristics of the soil more favourable for the cultivation of plants—by using specific blends of the cover crops. The effect of the cover crops on the reduction of the leaching of N and P, and it is examined which blends of the cover crops provide the biggest yield of biomass and thus maximise the input of organic matter into the soil.

Tests with cover crops this year:

  1. 17 kg hairy fetch + 3 kg bluebell + 30 kg/ha spring malt barley
  2. 5 kg Egyptian clover + 3 kg bluebell + 30 kg/ha spring malt barley
  3. 2 kg Japanese radish + 3 kg Egyptian clover + 3 kg bluebell
  4. pea 30 kg + bluebell 3 kg + buckwheat 12 kg/ha
  5. hairy fetch 10 kg+ Japanese radish 2 kg + bluebell 3 kg + Egyptian clover 2 kg/ha
  6. Egyptian clover 5 kg + oats 60 kg + bluebell 3 kg/ha
  7. hairy fetch 17 kg + winter rye 60 kg + bluebell 3 kg/ha
  8. Japanese radish 2 kg + oats (Kalle) 30kg + Egyptian clover 4 kg + Crimson clover 5 kg/ha
  9. hairy fetch 17 kg + bluebell 3 kg + buckwheat 12 kg
In addition, a test with sowing times:

3 sowing times (Aug 08, Aug 15, and Aug 28) for single crop seeding of different crops (fallow radish, Crimson clover, Egyptian clover, hairy fetch, and bluebell)

Speaking of producers, the tests are done in the field of Madis Ajaotsa: 2 different blends; both having the fertilised and unfertilised variety:

  1. pea 30 kg + bluebell 3 kg + buckwheat 25 kg/ha
  2. hairy fetch 17 kg + bluebell 3 kg + buckwheat 12 kg

Organic Fertilizer

Materials : Organic Fertilizer.pdf

Reduction of the environmental impact and increase of effectiveness of organic fertilizers.

In agriculture, organic fertilizers are one of the pollution sources of the environment. Their use brings along the emission of greenhouse gases and mobile nutrients reach the groundwater. The loss of nutrients both through volatilization and leaching decreases the profitability of crop production as well, because additional expenses shall be made on mineral fertilizers to preserve the soil fertility.

Therefore, a study is conducted, which results in ascertaining the ways how to reduce the loss of nutrients in the use of organic fertilizers. A new and yet not much tested possibility is to add biochar to liquid manure, which absorbs N and C in it, thus reducing their mobility and also their loss. The idea is based on the results of the tests conducted both in Estonia as well as abroad, which prove that char fixes NH4-N and CO2 from the fermentation residue, and thus reduces the emission of N and C. In the soil, chars slows down the movement of water and fixes NO3-N ion. Nutrients stay longer in the vicinity of roots in a soil that is enriched with char and therefore a plant digests them better and leaching decreases. Moreover, char enriches the soil with stable carbon.

Test are conducted with the aim to assess the impact of biochar on the emission of N and C, the leaching of N, the reserves of C in the soil, and cereal yields. The effectiveness of biochar in the reduction of the leaching of N is compared with other agricultural techniques applied for the same purpose, such as the cultivation of follow-on crops, mixing liquid manure with straw and using different soil cultivation ways after the spreading of liquid manure. Adding biochar to liquid manure is technologically simple, and the spreading of liquid manure with the addition of biochar does not require a technique different from the usual one.

The purpose is to examine the following:

  • How much does the adding of biochar to liquid manure reduce the emission of C and N
  • What is the optimal balance between char and liquid manure to reduce emission losses
  • How much does the adding of biochar reduce the leaching of N

In May 2017, a lysimeter experiment was conducted in Rõhu experimental station of the Estonian University of Life Sciences, where the effectiveness of biochar, follow-on crop, and straw on the reduction of the leaching of N is examined. Also, the evaluation of the impact of using liquid manure in autumn on the leaching of N takes place at these lysimeters. In spring, after filling the lysimeters with the soil, spring barley was sown on them so that the test conditions would be as similar as possible to the conditions in a cereal field after harvesting. The first test variants were conducted in the middle of August.

In the middle of October, we measured the emission of greenhouse gases at experiment variables with our collaboration partners from the University of Helsinki.

Biological Control of Rape

The evaluation of innovative methods of precision crop protection on cruciferous plants.

It is important to reduce pollution in the field emanating that derives from synthetic pesticides besides the leaching of nutrients in the conditions of integrated agriculture. Also, pesticide residue in the soil damage useful organisms who would to control both the pests and the pathogens. During spraying, the used pesticide may spread from the field away to the surroundings through air by dust formed from soil particles and by water. Moreover, excessive use of pesticide brings along the resistance capability of pests against plant protection product (resistance), which causes new preparations to be put to use. These problems have in turn caused the need to design new innovative and alternative pest control methods.

Biological preparations are used in the replacement of synthetic plant protection product, which include spores of microorganisms inherent to our soils. As the result of preparations reaching the plants, the number of microorganisms fighting fungus disease or insects on the leaves or blossoms of a plant, creating unfavourable conditions for the development of pathogens and contaminating the pests with entomopathogens so that their populations cannot become large and the damage level of the plants remains lower than the control criterion. Unlike traditional methods, the help of honeybees is used here for the plant protection product to reach the herbage, who transfer the powder preparations to the blossoms. The use of honeybees brings along the pollination deficit of cruciferous plants becoming smaller, and hence the yield is increased.

Biological preparations include different microorganisms, whose effectiveness in pest control depends strongly on the environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, sunshine, etc. therefore, all the available plant protection products may not suit to the Estonian conditions. In addition, it is necessary to ascertain if and how different biological preparations can be used as blends.

To ensure effective biological control, the bees must visit rape in a way that the preparation would evenly cover the whole field. In the name of effective control, it is studied what should be the distance of the beehives from the field, the number of beehives and their location in the field. The use of bees as the spreaders of biological preparation adds an extra value, which results in larger seed yield due to better pollination. The biological preparations used include organisms that are found in the surrounding environment. It should be tested whether the preparations are harmless to the bees and if the honey collected corresponds to the requirements established for food products.

The purpose is to ascertain the suitable biological preparations and to design an entomovector technology to use the bees as spreaders of preparations both for winter and summer rape.

The following will be ascertained as the result of the activity:

  • What are effective biological fungicides and insecticides to effectively control the most important rape pests
  • How much do the problems of environment pollution and pest resistance deriving from the use of synthetic pesticides reduce

Soil Sensors

Receiving consistent information via soil sensors on soil humidity, temperature, and salinity and using the respective data for sustainable agricultural production.

The purpose of innovation activities is to provide a plant breeder with information on soil humidity, temperature, and salinity. The sensors are wireless and specifically meant to be installed underground. The sensors are able to transmit data through soil, clay, ice, snow and even stones, reaching 4 metres deep underground.

The sensors enable to obtain information on soil conditions after every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day, and 365 days a year, which makes it possible for agricultural producers to make informed decisions and act sustainably. In the future, it will be possible to connect the data with a GIS server.