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Carbon honeycomb sensors shown on plant leaf monitor plant stress and moisture Courtesy of Liang Dong
MOSAIC LEAF VIRUS … NOT: These one-atom-thick leaf ‘tattoos’ are sensors that take real-time readings of crop stress and water use.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all…

Nor’east Thinkin’: At its dizzying development pace, ag technology gives America’s farmers the edge in global competition.

Ag technology just keeps spinning at an accelerating pace thanks to brilliant scientists and developers. It’s the very thing that helps farmers stay competitive in the global marketplace.

Who’d have thought a few years ago that we’d be able to gauge plant nitrogen needs with sensors and make on-the-go variable-rate applications? Who’d have thought we’d be crop scouting with drones? Who’d have thought we could raise 100-plus bushel soybeans. And who’d have imagined we’d be using robots to drive tractors and milk cows?

And now a new one is on the verge of commercialization — plant tattoo sensors. Nope, I’m not kidding. Patrick Schnable and Liang Dong, plant and electrical engineering scientists, respectively, at Iowa State University, designed graphene (carbon-based) sensors just one atom thick. Stuck on tape, these carbon honeycombs can monitor plant stress and moisture.

Initial use will be to breed plants that more efficiently use water, Schnable says. And yes, a patent has already been applied for the sensor technology that allows them to monitor plant stress and moisture. At some point in the near future, you may be sticking them to plant leaves for automated irrigation.

Bottom line: Make sure your children and grandchildren develop strong STEMs — science, technology, engineering and math scores. That’s where their future in agriculture is brightest.

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