Precision Agriculture

Implementing smart remote sensing solutions to promote the establishment of sustainable farming systems.

The aim of the project is to develop a smart system for fertilisation, based on remote sensing of plant nutritional levels during the season. Data collected in the study will yield accurate fertilisation maps. Remote sensing data will be assessed together with soil sensor data in order to develop a high-quality field-based analysis system.  The aim is to avoid excess fertilisation of crops as it can have negative environmental impact, leading to groundwater pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Insufficient fertilisation poses risks for plant growth, reduces soil fertility and productivity.

The tests take place with the following crops:

Spring wheat

Spring barley

Spring swede rape


Experiments will be carried out on test plots of the Estonian University of Life Sciences and at the cluster members’ production fields. The vegetation index corresponding to the fertilisation norms, and crop’s need-based nitrogen (N) norms will be calculated and determined for furter studies. 

In Estonia, we have joined forces with the European Space Agency, as a result of which we have access to satellite photos. Satellite images are obtained from the Tartu Observatory, a calculation model will be developed for the fertilisation maps. During three years of testing (in 2017-2019), field experiments have been carried out to determine the nutrient supply of crops in local climate conditions through remote sensing.  Crops assessed were established in the 1990s: spring wheat, spring barley and spring swede rape

The experimental plots set up at the Estonian University of Life Sciences were subjected to basic fertilisation of crops before sowing in order to ensure sufficient phosphorus and potassium reserves in the soil for the entire growing season. During the growing season, two additional top-dressings with mineral nitrogen fertiliser were applied. To determine the vegetation index and to evaluate the effect after fertilisation, nutrient supply during the growth season was measured by hand and via remote monitoring (four times). During harvest, crop yields were recorded from each test plot to see if monitoring in also reflected in yields. In the autumn, soil samples were taken from the experimental fields to analyse the nutrient supply and fertilisation effect  during the growing season and to set new norms for the upcoming season. 

Of the experiments established on the production fields, drone monitoring was performed to compare the growth levels from test plots to the data yielded from production fields located in different regions of Estonia. Recommendations were made for more effective field management for the next season.

The years 2017-2018 were in extreme weather conditions: 2017 was rich in rainfall, but dry year of 2018 did not allow the plants to absorb the fertilisers applied to the fields as the mineral fertilisers did not dissolve in the soil. 

That said, a calculation model will still be developed for need-based fertilisation along with fertilisation maps and a site-based recommendations for farmers situated all over Estonia. Recommendations will depend on the vegetation index determined on the basis of satellite photos.

The calculation model can be used by farmers in various programs based on GIS software. The use of fertiliser maps help avoid excess fertilisation, provide an opportunity to make decisions based on the actual situation and soil conditions.

Estonian University of Life Sciences Toomas Tõrra
Tatoli AS   Jaanus Kilgi