Day 1: OSA Agri-Photonics Incubator

Day 1: OSA Agri-Photonics Incubator

By Mike Duncan and Hannah Walter


The OSA Agri-Photonics Incubator started this morning, 13 May 2019, at OSA Headquarters bringing together experts in precision agriculture technology development, plant biology, regulatory work and industry. Over the next day and a half, presentations and discussions among the attendees will explore how modern optical sensing technologies, especially current spectroscopic techniques, can be applied in agriculture. Today’s program began with an introduction from one of our hosts, Amartya Sengupta of IIT Delhi, who provided insight into the decision to host an Incubator focused on agri-photonics. Amartya noted that an ever-growing global population is leading to an increased demand for food, which in turn increases the demand on our plant’s limited resources such as land and water.  Science will be critical to finding ways to optimize crop production and the use of resources to meet these demands, and this OSA Incubator will serve as a way to explore the technologies that will make this a possibility.

Amartya Sengupta, IIT Delhi, give an introductory talk to kick-off the Incubator
Amartya Sengupta, IIT Delhi, give an introductory talk to kick-off the Incubator

Following Amartya’s introduction, Aparajita Bandyopadhyay of the IIT-Delhi Joint Advanced Technology Center shared an overview talk exploring the link between food security and the use of precision agriculture. The presentation laid out what exactly we are talking about when we discuss precision agriculture, sensing techniques used for real-time monitoring of crops to detect disease, plant phenotype and food quality.  After giving a compelling overview of the size of today’s agriculture enterprise, including statistics on how much food is lost in inefficient processes, she talked about various technologies that can increase crop yield and optimize the use of resources, especially optically-based techniques. These techniques included ways to measure large area quantities such as soil quality, crop health, and irrigation, and smaller scale qualities such as individual plant health and spot checks on processed food. She made a compelling argument that technology-based solutions must be used to increase food production to match the needs of a human population predicted to be on the order of 10 billion people by 2050.

Aparajita Bandyopadhyay, IIT Delhi, presents her overview talk on precision agriculture
Aparajita Bandyopadhyay, IIT Delhi, presents her overview talk on precision agriculture

The first session of the Incubator focused on current challenges in monitoring fundamental processes in plant biology. Two speakers talked about understanding plant metabolism: Yashwanti Mudgil, Delhi University, India, spoke on plant stress mechanisms and the use of optical techniques to monitor them, and Basil Nikolau, Center for Metabolic Biology, Iowa State University, USA, spoke on understanding and monitoring more basic plant metabolism qualities. Another talk in this session was one from John Reich of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research here in Washington, D.C. John discussed FFAR’s Precision Indoor Plants Initiative, which focuses on advancing innovative science to revolutionize the production of healthy and nutritious foods that can grow anywhere with fewer inputs. While other organizations are focusing on indoor agriculture as the solution for many of the challenges the agriculture industry is currently facing, FFAR’s initiative takes a closer look at the plants themselves, in particular lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes, blueberries and cilantro, and adapting them to indoor growing environments. John’s presentation discussed the need for new, non-invasive techniques that will allow them to evaluate not only the architecture of the plants being grown as part of this initiative but also their phytochemicals, which would allow growers to evaluate the health and flavor of the crop. In another talk, Joseph Shaw, from Montana State University, USA, talked about using hyperspectral imaging, augmented by machine learning, to identify herbicide resistant weeds and the general ripeness of produce. A lively and informative panel session was held after the formal talks were given.

John Reich, FFAR, discusses the organization's Precision Indoor Plants Initiative
John Reich, FFAR, discusses the organization's Precision Indoor Plants Initiative

The afternoon session delved into various spectroscopic techniques and their use, or possible use, in agriculture. Martin Koch, from the Philipps-Universitat in Marburg, Germany, talked about the current status of using terahertz spectroscopy in monitoring the water content in plant leaves. While terahertz spectroscopy is still difficult and expensive, it has many applications in agriculture, particularly in measuring water content. Jaakko Lehtinen, Spectral Engines, Finland, discussed near-IR spectroscopy applications in agriculture using their company’s miniature, MEMS-based spectrometers. Host Gombojav Ariunbold, Mississippi State University, USA, described the basis of Raman spectroscopy and showed how coherent anti-Stokes Raman spectroscopy (CARS) could be used in agriculture. In general, he showed how CARS can be used to identify chemical components in plants and soil, but mostly limited in probing small spatial areas. Finally, Bernd Sumpf, from the Gerdinand-Braun Institut in Germany, showed how effective standard Raman spectroscopy could be in agriculture when using laser diodes as excitation sources. He described the use of shifted excitation Raman difference spectroscopy (SERDS) in hand-held probes for determining meat quality, foliage and fruit properties, and soil constituents.  Again, an informative panel session followed the talks.

More interesting talks will take place in the late afternoon on the topic of “Photonics for Food Quality Assessment,” and a final session on “Public/Private Collaborations and Funding Opportunities” will take place tomorrow. 

So far there have been a number of comments from Incubator attendees on the advantage of having optical scientists, application developers, and people who understand the “big picture” all together at the same time, covering different aspects of agri-photonics. Tomorrow will continue that model with extra time for more panels and a wrap-up discussion.

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Posted: 13 May 2019 by Mike Duncan and Hannah Walter | with 0 comments

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