Drone NDVI for Plant Nutrition Testing


Summary: We recently did an interesting test where we used NDVI imagery from one of our drones to detect improvements in plant health over a 10 day period.We found that the NDVI was sensitive enough to detect these improvements once the nutrition had been applied.

Main Discussion:

In September 2014 we launched our agricultural drone (www.agridrone.co) at the Agri Mega trade fair in Bredasdorp, South Africa. We are a small startup using PixHawk-based drones to map farms to provide timeous, high resolution RGB and NDVI imagery to farmers, agronomists and soil scientists.

Based on testing work we did the previous season, we were approached by an organic wine farmer and an organic plant nutrition developer to conduct a test of an organic plant nutrition product. The company, Agro-Organics from Somerset West, South Africa, has been working with organic wine farmer Dr Edmund Oettle, of Uplands Organic Estate. They wanted to see if the expected improvement in the vineyard could be detected by our NDVI.

We therefore planned 6 flights over a 10 day period. The plant nutrition was applied at the end of Day 1, after the first mapping flights were done. We then intended to fly on 5 follow up days and compare imagery. In the event, a mistake I made in planning the flights meant that the first day's flight was not usable for comparison, but we were still able to compare the subsequent days.

By flying the identical mission at the same time of day we managed to get comparable images. We were fortunate to get clear conditions on every day, but on some days we had quite strong winds to contend with.

Several images are attached - an RGB mosaic of the vineyard block, showing the 4 rows that were observed. A second image compares the NDVI of the four rows, clearly showing improvement in the treated rows relative to the untreated.

We also took chlorophyll content readings on a sample of the vineyard over the duration of the test, which confirmed the NDVI result.

Usually NDVI is seen as having value in early detection of stress, but I think our project shows that it can add value in identifying improvements too, within limits.

For those seeking more information on our drone, we provide details on our website.

RGB Mosaic CC subset_S.jpg

Day 2 vs Day 5_s.jpg

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    • What filter did you use for block blue band?

    • The Cokin A003

    • Thank's

  • Hi John, 

    Do you think this camera could work for your project ?


    The advantage is its very light, and has no infrared filter. it is used to monitor health of green plants.

    Look at this:


    • Hi Francisco

      That camera looks promising, but in the case of our drone we do not want to add any more weight, as would be required with the additional Raspberry Pi hardware required.

  • Hello everyone. I am agronomist engineer, photos assessment NDVI is not my area, though I really want to work on this. There was a very significant improvement in lines 4, however, an improvement is observed in lines 1 (untreated). Will they be by the ends may have occurred some reading error.
    I congratulate you for the experience, just so learn to work with this fantastic tool.

    • Hi Henrique
      Given the variation in a range of factors it is impossible to hold conditions exactly constant between days, so we really do not have an entirely fixed control group. However, we selected this image because on balance it shows constancy in the control group versus change in the treated group.
      It would be easier to do the test in a greenhouse under hydroponic lamps, where environmental conditions can be fixed, but this was not an option for us.

  • Awesome stuff John! I am doing something similar myself, but without NDVI at the moment as the cameras are so expensive.  I've been considering modifying a Canon S100 myself, but it is still heavier than an action camera. The GoPro's are just too expensive.

    I'm busy doing a university project over in the US, and have my own UAV.  Could you share with me, or point me in the right direction, how to modify the Mobius cam? Or if you bought it modified, could you share your retailer?

    Baie dankie bru!

    • Hi Global, we do the modification ourselves but it is tricky and if you get it wrong you can get asymmetric distortion in the image, making lens calibration impossible.

      The only place I've heard of selling these cameras modified is publiclab.org. You should check them out.

    • I've looked at using the Mobius to collect this data but the image distortion meant that I ended up using a Powershot S95. How are you removing the image distortion? I was considering OpenCV but the training of the "undistortion" process was pretty challenging.

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