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Drones to change the farming industry

Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or more commonly known as drones, are rapidly increasing in popularity. For years, UAS technology has been applied in various military field operations, including aerial photography, combat, and surveillance. More recently, drones have also found their way into the hands of many private citizens for recreational use.

But far beyond their recreational appeal, drones can actually provide farmers with important technology that will ultimately help determine crop health and facilitate agricultural productivity overall. And while this might be news to many local farmers, that’s certainly not the case in Japan.

In the early 1980s, Japan solicited the help of Yamaha to develop an unmanned helicopter for crop dusting applications. This initiative led to the development of Yamaha’s R-50 and RMAX, two unmanned helicopters that have been used successfully by Japanese farmers for decades. The U.S. is currently pushing to implement UAS systems in a variety of contexts, including farming. And the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) is playing an integral role in the research and development behind it all.

In 2013, ULM’s Aviation Program introduced the state of Louisiana’s first concentration in UAS technology. It has already expanded to include a Precision Agriculture and Research Center (PARC), which is dedicated to producing research in agriculture—a major economic influence in Louisiana. The research ultimately seeks to discover ways in which various sensor technologies can be used to determine crop health.

And crop health is no small issue. In fact, the livelihood of local farmers depends on it. Parasites, feral hogs, shortage of light, drought, and nutrition deficiency are among many of the causes of crop damage. In a recent study, it was estimated that feral hogs alone caused over $74 million in crop damage in the state of Louisiana in 2013. Researchers agree that total crop damage in the state is well in excess of $1 billion, although exact financial loss is difficult to determine.

So where do drones come into play?

According to Dr. Sean Chenoweth, ULM associate professor in the college of business and socials sciences, and director of research for the PARC, UAS technology is an important tool that can assist precision agriculture by detecting problems with crops by using near infrared mapping technology. “Once a problem is detected, field inspection is necessary to determine if there is a water shortage or surplus, bug pests, fungus or nutrient deficiency,” says Dr. Chenoweth. “The traditional method has been to treat the entire field for a problem that might just be in one isolated place. Precision agriculture seeks to treat only the affected areas instead of wasting chemicals on the entire field.”

(Source – http://www.hortibiz.com/item/news/drones-poised-to-change-the-farming-industry/)

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