More Precision Agriculture for More Farmers!

Posted by on November 4th, 2015 | 0 Comments »


By Yangxuan Liu, Ph.D. candidate in Agricultural Economics at Purdue University with concentrations in agricultural finance and agribusiness management. Ms. Liu received a M.S. degree in Agricultural Economics at Purdue University and a B.S. degree in Economics with a minor in Business Administration at University of Macau in China. Liu’s research interests focus on one particular solution for global food security: precision farming technology. Her research has the potential to improve disease management of late blight disease in vegetables and limit potential losses for horticulture farmers of all scales.


This year, I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to engage with senior agricultural leaders at the Borlaug Dialogue and World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.  Designed to continue the legacy of Dr. Norman Borlaug, the Borlaug Dialogue stimulates discussion, raises awareness and finds solutions to promote availability and access to food and to improve global food security.

Panel Precision AG 11

Our panel, “Precision Agriculture: Technologies for Productivity and Resilience” discussed how new technologies and practices are being harnessed to improve food production and conserve the natural resource base.  My role in the panel was to raise the need of vegetable farmers, specifically those who produce potatoes and tomatoes, and to discuss solutions that help farmers of all scales with site-specific tools and technologies.

I first became interested in global food security during the summer of 2011. I volunteered at the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where I conducted in-depth research in the Rural Education Action Project (REAP) in China. I visited rural areas of Western China and conducted surveys that evaluated how computer assisted learning impacts rural students’ school performance. The one month trip for this project changed my perspective and developed new goals. Instead of taking the skills and capabilities I possess for granted, I was compelled do my best to help people in need. Witnessing firsthand the problem of malnutrition among children in the rural communities during the trip to Western China invoked my passion to do more to improve their quality of life on a broader scale. Since then, I have worked in efforts to help ensure global food security.

Yangxuan Liu with Chinese Farmer

To solve the global food challenge, productivity need to be intensified. Technology adoption is one of the main methods for increasing agriculture efficiency and productivity. The development of precision farming technology is one of the most promising ways to do this.

Precision agriculture in the United States presently has a strong focus upon corn, soybeans and other major cereal crops. Vegetable crops have historically received less attention.  My research focuses on applying precision agriculture to high value crops – crops on which rural communities and many small-scale farmers depend. Unlike cereal crops, even the slightest problem can negatively impact yields and profitability for high value crops.  Producers must vigilantly monitor pest and diseases to mitigate production and financial risks to these high value crops.

Late blight disease may perhaps be the most economically damaging pathogen for potatoes and tomatoes, especially due to its sensitivity to weather. However, individual growers have difficulty monitoring weather conditions, and more importantly, understanding the relationship between weather and the threat of disease outbreak.  Without access to relevant information, it is very difficult for growers to make informed decisions.

Developed at the Fry Lab at Cornell University, Potato/Tomato Late Blight Decision Support System (DSS) is a good example of how precision farming technology transforms data into information and then converts information into useful knowledge to help farmers make decisions (Small, Joseph, and Fry 2015).  This system is an interactive computer based tool which helps potato and tomato growers use updated weather data to develop crop protection strategies. The DSS gives growers early warning signals pertaining to late blight development, helping them to schedule the next best fungicide application opportunity.  More specifically, the DSS program helps growers apply fungicide more timely and, most importantly, in accordance to current weather conditions, pathogen inoculum, host resistance, as well as fungicide characteristics and efficacy.

In order to help growers understand and benefit from use of the DSS, I have been actively collaborating with plant pathologists to better understand late blight disease and come up with better management strategies that ultimately help farmers gain financial benefits. Our economic research analysis reveals that the adoption of this precision farming technology increased average yield for susceptible potato cultivars in the United States by 2 percent, which is equivalent to an 800 pound increase per acre. For all U.S. potato cultivars, the DSS recommended spray schedule to protect the plants is strongly preferred over the traditional calendar basis spray schedule. The economic benefits to potato growers of adopting the precision agriculture technology ranged from $30 to $544 per acre (Liu et al. 2015). This value can be used to promote the adoption of precision farming technology to potato and tomato growers, helping them more precisely apply crop protection and reducing crop loss.

The DSS program has been designed to be easily accessible and used by commercial potato and tomato growers as well as small gardeners. With proper support, this technology can easily be brought to developing countries. Ultimately, I hope to apply my interdisciplinary knowledge to the international needs in order to improve agricultural productivity for the world’s vegetable growers.


Liu, Yangxuan, Michael R. Langemeier, Ian M. Small, Laura Joseph, and William Earl Fry. 2015. Risk management strategies using potato precision farming technology. In Agricultural & Applied Economics Association Annual Meeting. San Francisco, CA.

Small, I. M., L. Joseph, and W. E. Fry. 2015. Development and implementation of the BlightPro decision support system for potato and tomato late blight management. Computers and Electronics in Agriculture 115:57-65.

« Improving Productivity in Agriculture: A Foundation for Sustainable Breadbaskets
Soil Health Is Fundamental for Zambia’s Farmers »

No Comments