The orchards of Parma and Caldwell have been host to some of the newest crop-monitoring software in the nation. Growers rely on accurate, real-time monitoring of crops to ensure that their harvest remains healthy and disease and pest free. Aerial monitoring is by no means a new idea; for years farmers have been paying for satellites to capture images of their crops or for pilots to fly over their land snapping photos to help recognize potential health issues, however both techniques are costly and time consuming.
A new trend has been to employ unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to capture the needed images. The UAVs are controlled remotely and are far cheaper to buy and use than a full-sized airplane. However, even after images are gathered, a grower needs to be able to see what is going on within in the crop. To do this, no ordinary photo will do.
During the 2011-12 school year, Assistant Professor Dr. Duke Bulanon in NNU’s Department of Physics and Engineering, with Paulo Salvador (São Paulo, Brazil) and Mark Horton (Nyssa, Ore.), two undergraduate students, began experimenting with UAVs and the software used to interpret the images gathered. The team from NNU is working to equip a UAV with a multispectral imaging sensor that will capture images in both visible and near-infrared bands. These special images will allow farmers to see invisible changes in how a plant reflects light when it undergoes water stress, nitrogen deficiency or disease infestation, immediately showing growers exactly what changes are needed to produce a healthy crop. “It’s kind of weird,” said Dr. Bulanon, “we are engineers doing agriculture.”
The combination of engineering and agriculture seems to be working. Initial testing has turned up promising results—promising enough for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture to grant the School of Science and Mathematics an $84,000 grant to continue the project in November.