Dr. Mike Duncan


Full name

Dr. Mike Duncan


Using GPS, big data and predictive algorithms to develop tools to help farmers understand the technological process of moving data from an SD card on their combine to a software on their computer to better understand the unit economics of their fields (cost and yield per each square foot) and the necessary input to use to achieve maximum yield given the soil and weather forecast

Type of researcher


Introduce yourself, your experience and your credentials

The seeds of sustainability and efficiency in agriculture have firmly taken root at Niagara College Research & Innovation through the efforts of Dr. Mike Duncan, the first NSERC Industrial Research Chair for Colleges. With a specialization in Precision Agriculture and Environmental Technologies, the five-year mission of the Chair is to continue the work Duncan has already started when he arrived at Niagara College in 2001; to develop new tools; and to engage provincial and national farming communities.

Duncan came to Niagara College to found the Centre for Advanced Visualization (CFAV), a research group dedicated to exploring the use of virtual reality (VR) for urban and land use visualization. A year later, Duncan received one of the first large grants ever awarded to colleges, when the Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT) invested more than $330,000 dollars in CFAV. Two years later, he received one of six NSERC Community College Innovation Pilot Program grants awarded across Canada. While it was a research facility, CFAV worked with international firms like Parsons Engineering, and Delcan Engineering, as well as local governments and cities. In 2006, CFAV Inc. was incorporated to commercialize the CFAV group, and to pursue private contracts, so Duncan then founded the Augmented Reality Research Centre (ARRC) to continue research into VR and to expand its use into other areas such as precision agriculture.

An Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) grant in 2007 established ARRC and Niagara College firmly in the area of agricultural remote sensing and visualization with the PrAgMatic project which aims to help farmers increase crop yields while reducing dependence on fertilizers and water, therefore reducing environmental impact. The PrAgMatic system currently encompasses a host of technologies, including GIS/GPS, databases, 2D and 3D visualization, digital soil mapping (DSM), image classification, sensor networks, LIDAR, and other remote sensing technologies.

In 2009, Niagara College received one of the first Community College Innovation (CCI) grants of $2.3 million for the development of the Land Use Technology Centre to further focus on the PrAgMatic project. This work attracted the attention of local and international partners, including Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), and IBM.

Maintaining a healthy respect for the fact that farming is a business, Duncan and his team of students and collaborators are examining questions like how to establish management zones in farm fields, how to recognize the onset conditions of killer frost events, and how to interpret and use remote sensed data in the context of a farm field.

Describe your research

So here at Niagara College, we’re developing a set of tools to help the farmer understand the technological process of moving data from their combine through to something that they can use in terms of the fertilizers and amendments that they will have to apply to the crop in order to achieve their yearly yields.

So understanding these yearly yields and understanding the variability that’s involved in them is made a lot easier through visualization. So our tools take the data from the combine the farmer simply removes the SD card that the combine puts all the data on. Put it into the put it into their computer. They run our web software which projects our computer power into their offices

So they don’t need a big computer or an IT infrastructure. So the farmer will then know both the economics and the total net inputs that go into the field. So basically they can budget a cost per acre and then they can figure out typically what they’re going to get in terms of a return. That would give them an idea economically of how the field works from year to year.

So one of the things that we began to work on here at Niagara college is based on a suggestion by a farmer from Minto, Manitoba. His premise is that by increasing the soil organic matter in farm fields across the world we can completely absorb or mitigate the carbon emissions from the entire planet.

We’ve done some calculations that show that given the amount of soil organic matter. By increasing it by about a quarter of a percent you can actually generate across all the fields of the world about 10 Giga tons of carbon that you’re removing from the atmosphere. And this basically, totally negates the amount of projected carbon that’s going into the atmosphere as of 2018.

So to continue the evolution or the buildup of soil organic matter is beneficial to everybody because it makes for far better and far healthier fields that makes for far better food, it makes for farms that are resistant to changes and resistant to the climate change that’s going on. In fact it actually reverses and mitigates it.

Explain its significance

So once upon a time I was reading a book by Carl Sagan and his suggestion was he did a comparison between people and a snail. The snail carries a house surrounded on its back. You know, how long would it take people to evolve to the point where they could carry a house around on their back?

He said basically humans developed a house a different way: they developed a brain. So the evolution of the brain allowed them to invent technology. And the technology allows them to build a house. Those humans given a brain can adapt faster and more easily to any environment on earth than our little snail friend who spent five hundred thousand years developing that little house.

The point is that we can quickly adapt and we can quickly evolve techniques and tools that can solve most of the problems that we have. The Portal is a piece of technology that helps farmers do things better. The regenerative agriculture is a technology that will help save the planet. The evolution of electric cars will also contribute. We are very much capable of mitigating all these problems through technology and the technology is a by product of our own evolution.


Institution name

Niagara College

Type of institution



Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting

Crop production, Support activities for agriculture and forestry

Information and cultural industries

Data processing, hosting, and related services