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£1M secured for supporting sustainable agriculture in China with enhanced remote sensing capability

A £1M project for supporting sustainable agriculture in China was recently awarded to Loughborough by the UK Research Councils under the Newton Fund. Agriculture is currently facing serious challenges in securing food supply to the world population. Global population will continue to grow in the near future with an increasing aging-population structure. Thus the demand for food is expected to continue to rise as global population grows and a rising middle class desires more meat and dairy products in rapidly developing countries like China. Similarly, the total demand for energy and fresh water will increase as a result of economic growth in China. The increased frequency of extreme weather events occurring will seriously hamper food production. Sustainable intensive agriculture is widely perceived to be the answer to the challenge, which aims to increase food production without adversely damaging natural resources and environment. Remote sensing plays a key role in developing sustainable agriculture for China and other countries since it provides timely, synoptic, cost-effective and repetitive information about crops, their growth environments and other key relevant elements such as migratory insects and diseases. It is the key enabling technology for precision agriculture, which is centered around the concept of site specific treatments. Precision agriculture will not only increase the efficiency of the recourse (e.g. water, land, energy) but also, more importantly, reduce the adverse environment impact of agriculture activities caused by excessively using chemicals such as pesticides and fertilisers so reduce pressure on the already damaged environment in developing countries such as China. 


The project entitled “Enabling Wide Area Persistent Remote Sensing for Agriculture Applications” was led by Professor Wen-Hua Chen in the Department of Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering at Loughborough University. An international consortium has been assembled for this project with 4 partners in the UK and two from China. This project was jointly funded by the UK research councils and the National Science Foundation of China with £1M budget for the UK partners and 3M Chinese Yuan for the China partners respectively. In addition to Prof Wen-Hua Chen, Loughborough’s team also consists of Drs Cunjia Liu and HD Oh, both also from the Department of Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering. Other UK partners are Cranfield University, the University of Manchester and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) EMR. The project mainly focuses on two research areas. One is to integrate all the available sensing platforms such as satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles to provide wide area and persistent remote sensing capability with high spatial and temporal resolutions. The other is to automate the operational processes by applying autonomous system technologies including the planning and preparation of the operation, the remote sensing operation and post data processing. The developed technologies will reduce the operational workload and the requirements of the expertise and skills on the end users, and improve the operational efficiency. The outcomes from this project are applicable to other remote sensing areas such as tree disease monitoring, wild animal tracking and monitoring, natural disaster relief and environment monitoring, and also for other developing/developed countries.