I research how precision agriculture, on-farm experimentation, data science, and soil, crop and environment sensing can improve the way we manage our crops — to the benefit of farmers and the environment.
I did my master’s and Ph.D. at Université Laval in weed science using precision agriculture to improve herbicide use. In my master’s, I studied how induced fluorescence sensing can be used to discriminate among crops and weeds. For my Ph.D., I studied the spatial distribution of weeds in maize fields in order to assess the best approach for weed spot spraying. During my postdoctoral studies in at Colorado State University, I studied how to improve nutrient, water and seeds use efficiency by using soil mapping, remote sensing and proximal crop sensing.
In my previous position as a research scientist in precision agriculture at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, I worked on the application of precision agriculture principles to various aspects of agriculture, such as the spatial distribution of airborne fungus spores in onion production, invention of a yield-monitoring sensor for baby greens, site-specific nitrogen management in biofuel switchgrass, creation of an agricultural biodiversity monitoring system and crop monitoring using in-season high frequency remote sensing. I also participated in working groups to initiate a living laboratory in agriculture, develop observational studies applied to agriculture and on-farm experimentation.
In my research program I apply the principles of transdisciplinarity — working in multidisciplinary research teams and involving farmers and stakeholders in the creation process. I involve students from across the board to participate in the development of solutions for the various aspects of the digital agronomy continuum (e.g. social scientists to engage farmers, electrical engineers to invent sensors, data scientists to design data processing systems or computer scientists to develop artificial intelligence algorithms).
My research program participates with on-farm experimentation, helping farmers to harvest more from the time and resources they invest in their experiments. My research program also works on the development of environmental sensors, providing timely feedback on the effect of agricultural practices on the agri-environment.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Spend time with my family playing games, practicing sports or visiting new places. I also like DIY projects, bird watching, playing soccer and reading. I must admit that I have a weak spot for happy hour with friends.
What are your current outreach/extension projects?
As an extension faculty, I plan to reach out to farmers and evaluate with them how digital agronomy could take their on-farm experimentation one step further in terms of outcomes. For instance, could a soil electrical conductivity map, a soil moisture probe or crop canopy sensing provide additional insights to interpret observations?
In this process, I learn enormous amounts about the concerns that famers have and the solutions that they are experimenting, and at the same time I can pass some of my knowledge on digital agronomy principles and technologies to farmers who are eager to learn more.
What are three adjectives people might use to describe you?
Passionate, friendly and perseverant
What brought you to Cornell CALS?
I was impressed by the Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture, which has a real multidisciplinary vision. When I saw that the digital agronomy position announced had an extension component, I thought that this was possibly the best place in the whole world to implement my transdisciplinarity vision of digital agronomy.
What do you think is important for people to understand about your field?
That digital agronomy may be necessary to rapidly decrease the negative impacts of conventional agriculture on the environment. Environment seems to degrade faster than the speed at which we can find solutions using conventional scientific method. By using new approaches, such as digital agronomy, we can be more reactive to changes than by going through conventional experimental cycles.
Why did you feel inspired to pursue a career in this field?
I learned about precision agriculture in 2002 during my agronomy studies, and since then, this field of research has inspired me as a way to do more with less, to be less wasteful of resources and to better target farm inputs where they are the most beneficial.
This field has always interested me also because of the “techy” component to it. As an agronomist, I was always amazed to discover and understand how sensors, satellites, computers and machine work to provide new insights on what would otherwise be invisible to the human eye.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve discovered about Cornell and/or Ithaca so far?
I am very impressed with the school system and how Cornell is involved in so many ways in K-12 education. Having four kids, this is a very important component to us and we are impressed with the quality and diversity of education, sports and clubs to which our kids have access. I must admit that the landscape is extremely impressive with the gorges (yes!) and also the lake — providing a breathtaking vantage point from so many places in town and on campus.
If you had unlimited grant funding, what major problem in your field would you want to solve?
Okay, this is a tough one. I think that with unlimited funding I would like to solve the nitrogen problem once and for all. Nitrogen is very important for high yield, and at the same time it is a very reactive element generating nitrous oxide, polluting surface water and contaminating ground water when released in the biosphere.
There is thus a very fragile point of equilibrium between not enough and too much. When you add to that the importance of application timing, this is definitely a job for digital agronomy since no simple model will be powerful enough to encompass all possible situations. Bringing the nitrogen flow back below the planetary boundary would definitely help construct a better future for our children.
Learn more about Louis' work on his CALS profile and in a welcome announcement from the School of Integrative Plant Science.
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