Researchers at North Dakota State University (NDSU) are working with the university's Carrington Research Extension Center to evaluate the use of unmanned aircraft system (UAS) to monitor crop and livestock research projects.
As part of the study, researchers are using UAS-mounted thermal, infrared sensors and cameras that capture images at specific frequencies to gather data from fields and livestock at specified times.
NDSU Extension Service agricultural machine systems specialist and the project lead John Nowatzki said: "There is currently much interest in using UAS in agriculture.
"There is little research to show that UAS can be used effectively or economically for crop or livestock management," Nowatzki said.
With the help of UAS technology, researchers are planning to examine plant emergence and populations in corn, soybeans and sunflowers, and nitrogen deficiencies in corn and wheat.
Researchers also believe that the technology will help them make early plant health assessments, as well as spot disease and insect damage symptoms, weed infestations and indications of moisture stress on irrigated crops.
In addition, they plan to use the UAS to determine the impacts of tillage and crop rotations on crop emergence, vigor and yield, and impacts of soil salinity on crop yields, along with monitoring the dry-down times of individual corn hybrids to indentify the right time to harvest crops.
Researchers also plan to monitor animal temperatures and determine the feedlot surface temperatures of various bedding materials to recue risk of extreme weather conditions.
NDSU professor and extension agronomist Hans Kandel said: "The objective is to find out which observations taken from the plane can translate into immediate management actions, or possibly some observations may lead to corrective action for the following season."
The project has been funded by a Research ND grant from the North Dakota Department of Commerce and a North Dakota Soybean Council research grant.