Assistant Professor Duke Bulanon and students of the Northwest Nazarene University physics and engineering department have been experimenting with crop-monitoring software for drones over the orchards of Parma and Caldwell.
Initial testing has turned up promising results, according to the Nampa-based university. In response, the Idaho State Department of Agriculture has given the School of Science and Mathematics an $84,000 grant to continue the project in November.
Growers rely on accurate, real-time monitoring of crops to ensure that their harvests remain free of diseases and pests. For years farmers have been paying for satellites to capture images of their crops or for pilots to fly over their land, snapping photos to help identify potential health issues. Both techniques are costly and time consuming.
Using drones also called unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs to capture images is a new trend. The unmanned vehicles are controlled remotely and are cheaper to buy and use than a full-sized airplane. But examining an ordinary photo isn't enough.
During the 2011-12 school year, Bulanon and two undergraduate students Paulo Salvador of São Paulo, Brazil and Mark Horton of Nyssa, Ore. began experimenting with the unmanned vehicles and the software used to interpret the images gathered. They have equipped a drone with a multispectral imaging sensor that will capture images in both visible and near-infrared bands. These images will allow farmers to see invisible changes in how a plant reflects light when it undergoes water stress, nitrogen deficiency or disease infestation, showing growers exactly what changes are needed to produce a healthy crop.
Its kind of weird we are engineers doing agriculture," Bulanon said.