Michael Duncan

Michael Duncan

Niagara College

Chair title

NSERC Industrial Research Chair for Colleges in Precision Agriculture and Environmental Technologies

Chair program

Industrial Research Chair for Colleges


Chairholder since 2012


Research projects over the past few decades have demonstrated the promise and potential benefits of precision agriculture. They consist of better food, higher crop yields, and improved environmental stewardship, with a simultaneous reduction in costs. Although these projects have provided some glimpses into what the components of an overall precision-agriculture infrastructure might look like, there is not yet any coherent picture.

Over the past six years, Dr. Duncan has worked with government, private-sector, and technology partners to develop a system that will help farmers to engage in precision agriculture. The task of assembling this system and making it usable is necessarily multidisciplinary, requiring skills that range from remote sensing to programming to creating efficient user interfaces. Dr. Duncan has named his new system PrAgMatic–short for Precision Agriculture autoMatic–to express the idea that it will ultimately incorporate relevant farm data, convert them into useful, timely information for farmers, and deliver this information through the most appropriate technology channels.

In determining crop health and potential and actual crop yields, the two biggest factors are weather and farm-field variability. In order to obtain a picture of weather inputs to crops, regional data sources and in-field sensor networks can be combined. Other weather products, such as field and point forecasts and rainfall accumulation estimates, can be easily derived from free resources such as local radar data and then used to drive hydrology and crop-growth models. Dr. Duncan's technology partner, IBM Canada, is helping his team to work with temperature time series derived from field-based sensors to develop early-warning systems for extreme weather events such as frost.

The literature provides much evidence of the connection between field topography/variability and crop yield, which can be used to define what are often called "management zones". Two of Dr. Duncan's farm partners have been tracking and using management zones to great advantage over the past decade. Working with these partners and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Dr. Duncan is developing tools and methods for finding and mapping management zones with data from a variety of sources, ranging from photographs to sophisticated UAV-based LiDAR and multi-spectral sensors. His research team is also working with a specific farm partner to develop a software system that will use these management zones to optimize required crop inputs, such as fertilizers, so as to reduce costs and limit environmental impacts.

Dr. Duncan has been active in college research since 2002. He was one of the first recipients of an Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT) grant for colleges. He also received one of the six NSERC College and Community Innovation (CCI) Pilot Projects awarded across Canada, which led to the creation of the CCI grant fund. He subsequently received one of the first full CCI grants, in 2009. Dr. Duncan has received an ORION Discovery Award for his PrAgMatic system, which has been the core of his research program for the past six years.


  • Yellow Gold Farms Ltd.
  • Aginfosys Inc.
  • Village Harvest
  • Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (Environmental Unit)
  • IBM Canada Ltd.
  • EarthGen International Ltd.
  • Coyote's Run Estate Winery
  • Hillebrand Estate Winery

Contact information

Niagara College
135 Taylor Rd.
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
L0S 1J0

Tel.: 905-641-2252, ext. 4273
Fax: 905-988-4308


Contact Newsletter

Get highlights of things happening at NSERC delivered to your email inbox. View all Newsletters

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Youtube
  • Instagram