Precision Agriculture Applied to Organic Systems

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2019: $22,499.64
Projected End Date: 12/31/2021
Host Institution Award ID: 4W8089
Grant Recipient: Montana State University
Region: Western
State: Montana
Graduate Student:
Principal Investigator:

Information Products


  • Agronomic: peas (field, cowpeas), wheat, kamut


  • Crop Production: application rate management, conservation tillage, cover crops, cropping systems, drought tolerance, nutrient cycling, nutrient management, organic fertilizers
  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, on-farm/ranch research, participatory research
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, dryland farming, organic agriculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, nutrient mineralization, soil analysis

    Proposal abstract:

    The world population is growing and food needs continue to rise. All the while agricultural practices of high inputs and vast continuous monocultures are degrading land, waterways, and reducing ecological services worldwide. Organic agriculture proposes partial solutions to these problems by reducing inputs and emphasizing soil health, but it is unable to match conventional agriculture yields. Conventional systems have been able to increase yields with the adoption of precision agricultural (PA) techniques; techniques that allow variable rates of nitrogen to be applied to specific field points to maximize yield and reduce nitrogen runoff. A similar approach could be adopted in organic systems by mapping yields and optimizing seed rates of both nitrogen-fixing green manures, and cash crops that follow, to maximize yields of the cash crops. By optimizing seeding rates to meet the variability within each of their fields, organic farmers could reduce their costs, increase their plant-available nitrogen levels, and see improved crop output both in yield and quality. Thus, I propose to use newly developed PA tools and adapt them to organic productions systems much the same way as synthetic fertilizer applications have been optimized. Organic systems have unique variables relative to conventional systems such as plant nutrient availability and weed density. To explore these sources of variability in cash crop responses, the field trials will be used to develop crop yield predictive models to examine long-term resilience in organic grain rotations. Findings will be shared with both the organic and conventional communities who see benefits to using green manures and varying seeding rates in both cover and cash crops. This research will provide farmers with new on-farm experimentation methodologies and access to modern data sources to increase understanding of what variables cause variation in crop response across their fields and can be managed to increase their sustainability.


    Project objectives from proposal:

    Overall my objectives seek to increase resilience and thereby sustainability and profitability of organic farms by gaining an understanding of within-field spatial variability in factors driving crop response and providing algorithms that will allow optimized site-specific best organic management practices.

    1. Determine the first-principle relationship between green manure (GM) crop seeding rate nitrogen left in the soil and following wheat crop growth over a range of wheat seeding rates.
    2. Establish OFPEs on 2 fields on a farm where GM seeding rate will be site-specifically varied and subsequent year wheat seeding rate factorially varied to determine the influence of seeding rates of successive crops on wheat yield and grain protein content. Simultaneously monitor weed densities and determine their influence on crop response.
    3. Develop models to predict optimal site-specific GM, and following year wheat, seeding rates to maximize producer profitability in the organic fields where OFPE is applied.
    4. Share the results of the research in a range of venues.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.