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UAVs seen as Critical in Precision Agriculture

August 5, 2014

Dr. Robert Moorhead and his Geosystems Research Institute (GRI) colleagues are working with Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station (MAFES) agronomists to incorporate the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in site-specific agricultural research. Moorhead said campus scientists are using the aerial equipment in the research of plant growth, nutrient management, irrigation and herbicide application.

Mississippi State currently holds certificates of authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate UAVs for research purposes only, and scientists at MAFES have been using UAVs in their agricultural investigations. Flying above tractors and well below the aircraft, a space hotly contested right now, the aerial equipment has only been approved, to date, for commercial use in a very limited capacity in the Arctic regions. The FAA agency is developing regulations for UAV's commercial use, and Congress has issued a deadline of September 2015 for the regulatory body to establish rules specifically for small unmanned aerial systems, or UAS.

The practice of precision agriculture requires a number of other acronymic-titled technologies, including GPS (global positioning system), GIS (geographic information systems) and RS (remote sensing). All are designed to collect and analyze site-specific data that then is used to create and apply effective prescriptions for every inch of an agricultural field. Up until now, remote sensing data has been collected through ground instrumentation, fixed-wing aircraft and satellite.

For researchers, the most critical UAV component is its payload, or camera, system. Various payloads can collect both visual and multispectral images and real-time high-definition video. Other advantages include: Data that may be collected as a single image or mosaics showing either portions or an entire field, much faster access and lower costs than surveying fields in traditional aircraft and immediate downloading of data to a tablet or smart phone, thus expediting the process so researchers can quickly and more efficiently evaluate the information they are seeking.

To view the full article, please see: Mississippi State University News.