More research needed to translate data from unmanned aerial vehicles

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become popular in the last couple years to take aerial photographs of fields. The idea is to get a bird’s eye view of early disease or insect  damage or water and draining damage. Analysing and translating that evidence into actions that have an economic benefit will take more time.

“Digitial photographs are very good for assessing differences in soil type, drainage, weeds and crop growth,” says Mary Ruth McDonald, University of Guelph’s research program director for plant production systems. “In true colour photos, it’s easy to see crop damage as a result of excess water or poor drainage.” 

She explains that near infrared images can be used to calculate the normalized difference vegetative index (NDVI). This index gives a leaf area index, which indicates how much of the soil is covered by leaves. At the Muck Crops Research Station, work is still needed for early detection of disease and insect damage. 

In research conducted over the last two years, McDonald says that octocopters work best because they don’t need room to take off and land. They can hover and change heights easily. They are best for photographing research plots in compact areas such as the Holland Marsh. 

Many growers such as Charles Stevens, OFVGA chair of the crop protection section, are following these research developments. As major equipment manufacturers sell equipment with precision data capabilities, Stevens cautions that the aggregated data may grant unparalleled knowledge to big business. In the future, as the analysis capabilities improve, he suggests that like-minded growers band together to buy an octocopter to bring costs down. “In this way, you also own the information,” says Stevens.

The upcoming Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention is hosting a Precision Ag seminar on February 17.

CUTLINE: Photo courtesy of Muck Crops Research Station.

Key words:  Mary Ruth McDonald – AUTHORS, unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs,– NEW TECHNOLOGY 

Publish date: 
Monday, February 1, 2016

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