Topcon introduces CropSpec plant nutrition sensor

Topcon Precision Agriculture (TPA) announces the development of CropSpec, a real-time integrated plant nutrient monitoring and application system for agricultural equipment.

CropSpec is currently available for delivery to the global agriculture market in limited numbers with mass market introduction in early 2010. TPA is a business unit of Topcon Positioning Systems (TPS).

Working with Topcon’s core competency in optics and in cooperation with Yara International (the world leading manufacturer of nitrogen-based fertilizers), Topcon engineers designed CropSpec as a powerful crop canopy sensor. The Topcon system utilizes a two-sensor system (left and right side of the cabin) that allows a farm operator to monitor plant conditions and apply fertilizer and other inputs only as needed.

“This system will help revolutionize and simplify variable rate applications,” said Michael Gomes, director of agriculture business development. CropSpec sensors measure spectral reflectance using light from pulsing laser diodes focused on the plants. The reading can be correlated to measure chlorophyll content, which is closely linked to nitrogen in the plants. Scanning the crop creates a map to indicate relative canopy vigour.

The information can then be analyzed to determine crop areas that need treatment, construct prescription maps for later application, or immediately provide variable rate application enabling variable rate application in real time.

CropSpec, Gomes said, “allows farmers to perform real-time analysis of crop needs and meet those deficiencies immediately as they are traveling through the field. In other words, variable rate fertilizer applications are performed at the same time actual nitrogen readings are taken, based upon crop need.”

Used with Topcon’s X20 console (System 200), CropSpec links to Topcon’s Maplink program, the industry’s leading variable rate control (VRC) program for liquid sprayers or granular spreaders. The sensors measure nitrogen levels and Topcon’s X20 controller executes that prescription immediately, controlling the output of fertilizer in one pass.

“This provides the benefits of variable rate application,” Gomes said, “in a simple one-step process, reducing the complications typically associated with VR and can reduce both cost and waste associated with blanket fertilizer application.

“The return on investment of CropSpec is extraordinary,” Gomes said. “It is possible to pay for the technology in a single growing season from the savings in fertilizer costs, coupled with the benefits of providing the correct amounts of fertilizer where it is needed most.

“The sensing method is non-contacting, non-destructive, and provides consistent and repeatable readings, enabling the comparison of data from week to week or year to year,” he said.

CropSpec enables farm operators to work day or night with an “ease and versatility unmatched by any other technology,” Gomes said. The compact system mounts on the tractor roof out of harm’s way, eliminating the need for a boom-mounted sensor, reducing the potential for sensor damage as the machine is operating within the field.

CropSpec features two basic operation modes: A read/record mode and a fully automatic mode giving the operator a number of choices about how the variable rate application is determined from the sensor readings.

Other features of the CropSpec system include a greater sensor to crop distance (2-4 meters) and a larger sensing footprint that covers more crop area per pass. Rather than viewing the crop from directly overhead, CropSpec’s oblique sensor view, in combination with the large footprint enables more stable measurements in row crops at earlier growth stages.

CropSpec is coming to market after an extensive 18-month product qualification and competitor comparison testing. This global testing program consisted of systems being tested in the world markets by recognized industry leaders and scientists and at the Topcon agricultural test sites in Livermore, Calif.; Concordia, Italy; and Adelaide, Australia.

TPA is the only precision agriculture manufacturer using its own test facilities that allow not only controlled and repeatable testing, but also hardware and software tests and validations on various tractors models and implements.

“Topcon can run these qualification tests 24 hours a day on three different continents at the same time,” Gomes said.

Topcon continues to “push the boundaries of agriculture technology and is continuing to produce high-accuracy equipment to assist the farmer with crop management to maximize farm profits,” he said.

More information on CropSpec is available on the TPA Web site at: