Drone field images help assess plant health


The LSU AgCenter’s precision and digital agriculture program continues to expand. Stock image

Farmers are moving into the high-tech arena when it comes to scouting soybean and corn fields in the state.

For nearly 10 years, AgCenter agents Dennis Burns in Tensas Parish and R.L. Frazier in Madison Parish have used unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly known as drones, to take whole-field images to assess the health of plants.

The LSU AgCenter’s precision and digital agriculture program continues to expand, allowing researchers to cover more ground.

Luciano Shiratsuchi, precision agriculture specialist and coordinator of program, plans to use data to generate management parameters for farmers who are equipped for variable rate applications.

Shiratsuchi said the majority of farmers in Louisiana are still applying uniform rates of seeds, fertilizers and herbicides to their fields because of a lack of public information or service providers with a cost-benefit option that is affordable to them.

“Most crop management decisions are made using uniform rates over large areas, disregarding the soil spatial variability that is very high in our state,” he said. “A public and unbiased on-farm precision agriculture research program is needed to support the farmer to select the right variety and plant population to their management zones in the field.”

In general, new farm equipment has the ability to vary the rate of any input in their fields, but without many official unbiased recommendations, farmers may not use this technology.

Planters are available in the market that can vary not only plant population according to maps, but also up to three hybrid varieties based on management zones. But the performance of these varieties in different management zones still needs on-farm experimentation.

“What is being done by some companies is the use of official recommendations originated from experiments conducted in small plots inside research stations,” he said. “But soil spatial variations in the same experimental condition were not considered in the analysis due to the size of experiment.”

Shiratsuchi said there is a huge advantage to conducting on-farm experimentation because you will have larger plots, low human errors, better extrapolation of the results for a determined cropping system, better equipment being used to conduct all operations (seeding, fertilization, spraying, harvesting, etc.) and a direct application to the farmer who is conducting the experiment.

“The big paradigm and challenge of this project is to bring experimentation to the farmers’ fields using a different approach where their equipment will do all treatments automatically and the data will be transmitted wirelessly to cloud based systems,” he said.

AgCenter agricultural engineer Randy Price is also using drone technology to determine the proper amount of nitrogen to apply in corn fields.

Price said his research separated the field into strips and nitrogen was applied at various rates to check how the plants responded.

The aerial images captured across the fields could be helpful to farmers who want to know the variance of what nutrients may be lacking in or being overused in his fields.

“We tell the growers to start out with a low-cost drone to get comfortable, so they map a field, monitor equipment or even check on wild hog damage,” said Price.

Price said most of his work is with soybeans, cotton, wheat, oats and sugarcane, where he is looking at variances across fields.

Shiratsuchi said the greatest finding of the study was that you cannot pick a variety by yield.

“It’s not the first in the ranking that is best for your field,” he said. “There are varieties that perform better in light-textured soils, while other varieties perform better in heavier soils. Choosing a high ranking variety doesn’t tell the whole story.”

Others working on the project include AgCenter researcher Tri Setiyono, who is studying the integration of crop models and remote sensing. Johnny Morgan

8/17/2022 8:40:20 PM
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