Montana State researches wheat crop disease from the air

Dr. Charlie Rush and Montana State graduate student Ian Johnson have been using the 3DR Y6 for some foundational agricultural disease detection and prevention research. Their project aims use aerial imagery to detect wheat crop diseases. These pest-caused what viruses can lead to poor water uptake, and ultimately wasted water and wasted money.  Here's the full story from Agrilife:

Writer: Kay Ledbetter, 806-677-5608, skledbetter@ag.tamu.edu
Contact: Dr. Charlie Rush, 806-354-5804, crush@ag.tamu.edu

AMARILLO – Dr. Charlie Rush hopes to use a unique method – helicopter drone – to track disease progression across wheat fields to eventually help producers make better irrigation decisions.

A helicopter drone is being used by Dr. Charlie Rush, Texas A&M AgriLife plant pathologist in Amarillo, to track disease progression across wheat fields. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Kay Ledbetter)

A helicopter drone is being used by Dr. Charlie Rush, Texas A&M AgriLife plant pathologist in Amarillo, to track disease progression across wheat fields. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Kay Ledbetter)

Rush, a Texas A&M AgriLife Research plant pathologist in Amarillo, has enlisted the help of Ian Johnson, a Montana State University-Bozeman graduate student who is using his work in the university’s Science and Natural History Filmmaking Program to help scientists conduct research.

Approximately 1.1 million acres of wheat in the High Plains are irrigated, Rush said, making wheat the second-largest user of irrigation water from the Ogallala Aquifer. In this same region, mite-vectored virus diseases are the predominant pathogenic constraint to sustainable wheat production each year.

The viruses causing these diseases are transmitted by the wheat curl mite, he said. Infected wheat plants not only have reduced grain and forage yields, but also greatly reduced root weight and water-use efficiency. Therefore, fertilizer and groundwater applied as irrigation to diseased wheat is largely wasted.

Rush’s team is using the helicopter to take remote images of a field study where they are trying to develop an economic threshold for irrigation of wheat infected with wheat streak and other mite-vectored diseases.

A helicopter drone used by Dr. Charlie Rush, Texas A&M AgriLife plant pathologist in Amarillo, flies over a wheat field to track disease progression. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Kay Ledbetter)

A helicopter drone used by Dr. Charlie Rush, Texas A&M AgriLife plant pathologist in Amarillo, flies over a wheat field to track disease progression. (Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo by Kay Ledbetter)

“The problem for farmers is that these diseases develop in gradients over time and they don’t know whether or not they should apply new pesticides or fertilizers or water,” he said. “Most of these practices are done in April, and that is when the disease is just starting to show up. They may know they have disease in the field, but they really don’t know how much damage it might cause.

“So what we are trying to do is be able to go in early in the season and look at the disease development at a particular time and then based on what it looks like, say in early April, be able to give them a prediction of what the crop will be at harvest time.”

To do that, Rush said his team has been going into the field using different types of remote imaging, such as the hand-held hyperspectral radiometer, to measure and quantify the severity of disease development in the field.

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