Effective discrimination against solar background radiation is achieved without critical optical and mechanical parts.
An optoelectronic instrument, known as a plant fluorescence sensor, is being developed for use as a working tool in agricultural settings. This instrument is a remote, passive monitor that provides a means of discerning plant stress at very early stages. With sufficient warning, the user could provide timely applications of fertilizer, water, and/or pesticide to achieve maximum crop yield at minimum cost. Figure 1 presents two views of the plant fluorescence sensor. The instrument is the subject of U. S. Patent 5,567,947.
Measurement of steady-state plant fluorescence offers the possibility of determining the physiological status of a green plant. The magnitude of plant fluorescence and its spectral (color) distribution is sensitive to a number of factors which are related to the ability of a plant to perform photosynthesis (the process by which green plants convert atmospheric water vapor and carbon dioxide into sugars and oxygen, using sunlight as fuel). For instance, the light capture efficiency of the plant is dependent on the type and amount of pigment molecules (such as chlorophyll) which in turn is dependent on adequate fertilization. Plants stressed from a lack of fertilizer will limit chlorophyll production and exhibit both lower overall level of fluorescence and shift in spectral distribution compared to healthy plants. Another factor, such as lack of adequate water, can serve to limit the rate of photosynthesis by causing the plant to close its stomata (the openings which allow the leaf to draw in carbon dioxide and water vapor); when this happens, the level of plant fluorescence will generally increase. Thus, measurements taken with this sensor can guide growers in the allocation of resources such as irrigation water, fertilizer, and pesticides.