In this interview, AZoM talks to Scott Smyser, executive VP of worldside marketing and business development of Si-Ware Systems, about how near-infrared (NIR) technology can assist the agricultural supply chain.
What are the driving factors behind the need to improve farm productivity?
The growing population is putting increasing demand on the agricultural supply chain, whether that be crops or livestock. This means that farmers need to be more efficient and have the best yields possible. To do this, farmers need tools that can provide more real-time information so that actions and/or adjustments can be made.
How can soil sensing assist in improving farm productivity?
Farmers need to maximize crop yields and the biggest part of doing this is understanding soil health so as to be able to have the right balance of nutrients. If farms can afford to do soil testing, the way they have done it is through sending soil samples to a third-party lab. This is labor-intensive, costly, and does not provide real-time results. For those farms that can afford lab testing, there is more guesswork involved, especially in fertilization and there are many times where fields are over-fertilized.
Image Credit: Pinkyone/Shutterstock.com
What role does near-infrared technology (NIR) have in soil sensing?
NIR is used to determine the nutrients in soil: Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), Potassium (K). By understanding the makeup of these nutrients in fields, farmers can optimize fertilization. With Si-Ware’s miniature and low-cost sensing solutions, such as the NeoSpectra-Scanner, we can enable this analysis in the field. Farmers don’t have to send samples to a lab. They can have a system with the scanner where they get real-time results and can take immediate actions. They can do this throughout the growing season to continually optimize fertilization.
How can near-infrared technology (NIR) be used in the dairy analysis?
NIR can be used to measure the constituents of milk, such as fat, protein, and lactose. One implementation can be on the farm measuring the milk as it is being collected. If these parameters can be measured on milking machines, farmers can know the output of each individual cow. This real-time monitoring would allow farmers to make adjustments to feed to maximize and optimize a cow's output. The NIR systems that have been available are big and expensive and wouldn’t allow for this. Si-Ware’s NeoSpectra-Micro spectral sensor is small enough and low cost enough, that it can be implemented on milking machines. Another implementation is in countries that have many small dairy farmers that are producing and selling. An example is India, which is the largest dairy market comprised of thousands of small farmers that take their milk to collection centers. They are paid on the volume and makeup of the milk, such as fat, and farmers have been known to add fillers or adulterants to milk to increase volume and fat content. Today, ultrasonic systems measure only fat. A small NIR analyzer could measure not only fat (and protein and lactose), but also determine if there are any adulterants or fillers. Si-Ware has shown that its NeoSpectra-Micro spectral sensor can determine the constituents of milk, including determining if there are adulterants or fillers.
What other applications does near-infrared technology (NIR) have where improving farm productivity is concerned?
I mentioned it in dairy analysis, but more broadly NIR can be for feed analysis for livestock. As with soil, farmers are typically sending feed samples to a lab to determine the nutrient makeup so as to make adjustments to optimize the feed for their livestock. As with soil, a system can be developed with the NeoSpectra-Scanner to allow farmers to do this on the farm, saving time and money. Another application is having NIR on machines, such as combines, forage harvesters, and balers.
This would allow farmers the ability to measure the quality of their crops that would drive decisions in real-time while harvesting. Again, there are some NIR systems that have been available for on-machine applications, but the size, and more so the cost, have made it so that the adoption rate is low. The NeoSpectra-Micro spectral sensor is low cost enough that it can enable NIR on a much larger percentage (100%) of machines.
How are the NeoSpectra-Micro and the NeoSpectra-Scanner superior to any other products on the market?
NeoSpectra spectral sensing solutions offer a combination of performance with small size and low cost. NeoSpectra sensors are really spectrometers, FT-IR spectrometers, that have miniaturized into sensors via semiconductor MEMS technology. FT-IR is a proven spectroscopy technique that offers a wide spectral range for the best qualification and quantification. NeoSpectra sensing solutions obtain results similar to lab-based spectrometers. Another performance aspect is robustness. Given the semiconductor integration of the optics, NeoSpectra sensors are very robust to shock and vibration. In addition to performance, NeoSpectra sensing solutions can be produced in high volume and at low cost.
What does the future hold for Si-Ware?
Si-Ware has become a spectral sensing solution provider and we will be developing more complete solutions for companies. We have already put our sensing technology into a hardware and software ready device, the NeoSpectra-Scanner. We are also working with companies to adapt our sensing solutions to specific applications, whether that be through adjustments to sensing optics, system integration of other components, software interfacing, or the development of chemometric models.
About Scott Smyser
Scott manages worldwide marketing and business development for Si-Ware Systems (SWS) and develops and implements marketing and business development strategies for the company’s technologies and products.
Scott has 22 years of experience in the semiconductor industry as an executive and strategy consultant for companies focused on timing devices, MEMS sensors, and wireless technologies. Prior to joining SWS, Scott was Vice President and General Manager for VTI Technologies, Inc. (now Murata) a leading supplier of MEMS sensors to the automotive, medical, and consumer markets. He also co-founded VTI’s timing device business, which is commercializing MEMS resonator and oscillator technology. In his position, Scott managed the North American operations for VTI, in addition to overseeing the timing device business for VTI worldwide. Before joining VTI, Scott co-founded a MEMS resonator startup, Beat Semiconductor, and served as CEO. He saw the company through inception and initial IP development to acquisition by VTI Technologies.
Scott’s prior roles include Director and Principal Analyst for iSuppli (now IHS), leading market research and consulting firm for the electronics industry, and product marketing and sales positions at Epson Toyocom, a top crystal and oscillator supplier, and Tektronix, a leading test and measurement equipment supplier.
Scott earned a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from the University of Southern California.
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