With the help of drones, a Washington State professor is cultivating a new strain of research in the field of precision agriculture.
Lav Khot, a professor at the university’s Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural Systems, is using rotor drones arrayed with thermal-imaging sensors to explore crops response to various irrigation techniques. He specifically performs research among crops well known across Washington such as apples and cherries, in addition to wheat, potatoes and pinto beans.
Data captured by Khot’s drones can measure crop strength and stress to determine if mid or low elevation sprinklers work best for each crop. In his research on pinto bean crops, Khot hopes to reduce “the irrigation level from the normal 100 percent to 50 percent to see which ones will survive the stress and which will not, and which will do better,” he said in an interview with AgProfessional News. “We’re also looking at how tillage and no-tillage affect the pinto beans with the different levels of irrigation.”
By providing precision agricultural data to regional farmers, Khot hopes to assist them with optimal decision-making when it comes to planting for spring or winter. By analyzing plant health, farmers can see any damage sustained from cold spells. “Then they can decide if they want to continue, or maybe plant some spring wheat instead,” Khot said.
Khot sees drone use as an effective cost-cutting measure as well. Cherry farmers in Washington currently hire helicopter surveys at prices up to $20,000 to inspect fruit trees.
Drone missions in the agriculture sector have blossomed over the past five years and the outlook forecasts a bumper crop. A recent study concluded the precision agriculture drone market will be worth $2.9 billion by 2021 – up 28 percent from a 2015 valuation of $673 million.
Commercial drone provider AeroVironment recently launched a year-long study with Fresno State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology to survey and analyze water-stress levels in California almond trees using drone imagery and cloud analytics. And in January, researchers at Kansas State University created a research program to analyze in-field conditions and improve wheat-breeding programs.