UAV for Fruit Tree Monitoring

Cropping Systems Agronomy team – UAV training

With expanding precision agriculture and remote sensing related projects, UI Parma Cropping Systems Agronomy team has acquired hardware and software required to conduct Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flights. Congratulations to Dr. Sanaz Shafian, our Post-Doctoral Scientists for successfully passing the UAV pilot test and she is now fully certified to conduct UAV flights for our program. Dr. Olga Walsh has completed the FAA Safety Team Aviation Learning On-Line Course for small UAVs.

Research Technician, Jordan McClintick-Chess, and Post-Doctoral Scientists, Dr. Sanaz Shafian are taking part in hands on UAV hardware and software training, Parma, ID, Spring 2018.

Several UAV-based remote sensing projects will include a collaboration with Dr. Esmaeil Fallahi’s pomology program. We will utilize currently established apple and nectarine trials to collect the UAV-based spectral data. The fruit tree trials include trees planted at various densities and grown under various water and nutrient levels. This work is focused on “UAV-Based In-Season Assessment of Fruit Trees” and is supported by the ISDA and the Idaho Nursery and Landscape Association. Another study supported by the Idaho Wheat Commission is focusing on “Nitrogen Response, Uptake and Use Efficiency of Spring Wheat Cultivars”. This work is carried out in collaboration with Dr. Juliet Marshall’s team at Aberdeen. The key objectives are: 1)To assess response of newest University of Idaho, other best-performing wheat cultivars, and traditional “check” varieties to N, to quantify their N uptake magnitude and its’ pattern throughout the growing season, and NUE, and 2)To evaluate N uptake and NUE of spring wheat varieties currently tested in extension nurseries using ground- and aerial-based data. Both projects are integrating research and extension outreach.

The UAV we will be utilizing in our research is state-of-the art UAV - Matrice 100 (DJI, Los Angeles, CA), equipped with Zenmuse X3 precision RGB camera (DJI, Los Angeles, CA), and RedEdge™ M multispectral camera (MicaSense, Seattle, WA), and AgriSoft PhotoScan cutting-edge image processing software (St. Petersburg, Russia).

Technology upgrades to support UAV research and extension

Cropping Systems Agronomy program at the University of Idaho, Parma R&E Center is grateful to Dr. Barbara Petty, Associate Dean and Director of Extension, for continued support of our extension activities. This spring, with some well-timed funding, we were able to purchase ground calibration tarps required to ensure the accuracy of the UAV-based measurements and specialized software necessary to analyze the spectral imagery obtained with the UAV.
 We also sincerely thank Dr. BobTripepi and the Plant Sciences Department for providing additional funding for some salary for our postdoctoral researcher, Dr. Sanaz Shafian, our remote sensing specialist, and for some very much needed UAV batteries for uninterrupted flights.

Update on UAV research in various crops

Drs. Olga Walsh and Esmaeil Fallahi and Sanaz Shafian are collaborating on a UAV-based project funded by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture and the Idaho Nursery and Landscape Association. The overall goal is to strengthen sustainability and competitiveness of Idaho fruit tree producers by increasing awareness, knowledge, and adoption of crop sensors and UAVs. We are conducting work in the tree fruit orchard at the University of Idaho, Parma Research & Extension Center.
Remote sensing allow us to acquire information about a plant’s vigor and nutrient status by detecting from a distance—sensing—the amount of energy reflected or emitted by that plant. This methodology enables growers to make more informed management decisions based on real-time condition of the crop.
Precision sensing has three main advantages over traditional visual evaluation/scouting: 1. Sensors are much more reliable and objective than visual assessment 2. Sensors provide quantitative information (numeric data that can be measured and compared) versus qualitative information (descriptive data that can be observed, but not measured) 3. Sensors can function within regions of the electromagnetic spectrum where human eyes are unable to operate.
Our focus is demonstrating that UAV-based images can be used to accurately 1) determine fruit tree count; 2) estimate fruit tree height; 3) assess fruit tree nutrient and water status in-season, which is related to final fruit yield and quality.
Two extension outreach events are planned for September for Southwest and Northern Idaho.

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