As the body of scientific knowledge concerning sensors continues to expand, new uses for sensors in agricultural and natural resource systems is a significant focus for USDA science agencies. Since 2008, this focus has intensified and there are now extramural funding programs, such as the National Robotics Initiative and the Cyber-Physical Systems Initiative, designed to specifically address this area of science. Other extramural funding programs, such as the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, also have expanded emphasis on the use of sensors in agriculture.
Agriculture is the pragmatic application of knowledge to complex biological systems. In order to meet current and future challenges to agricultural production, non-traditional approaches to these production systems will be needed. Agricultural plants and animals communicate with each other and their environments in ways that are not immediately obvious to human senses. Artificial sensors can expand the human capacity to understand that communication, leading to novel strategies to increase agricultural efficiency.
Sensor research for agriculture must have a different focus than research in other areas. The development of sensors without a specific end use in mind will be of minimal value over time frames that are useful to agricultural practitioners. This fact necessitates the collaboration of diverse scientific teams that include physical scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and social scientists working with biologists to understand how sensors can be applied to agricultural challenges. As the use of sensors in agricultural production increases, data management will become increasingly important, as will the development of decision support systems.