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Drones May be Critical for Precision Agriculture in the Future

First Posted: Jan 27, 2015 10:04 AM EST

The future of agriculture may be all about drones. Unmanned aerial vehicles could greatly help farmers with precision agriculture in the future.

UAVs fly above tractor but well below manned aircraft. This means that they can be used for precision agriculture. In fact, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials are already developing regulations for the commercial use of UAVs.

"UAVs now are another remote-sensing tool available to collect visual and multispectral data," said Robert Moorhead, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Precision agriculture is data driven, and UAV technology adds another significant layer of data for researchers and, ultimately, crop consultants and producers to assess and utilize in a meaningful way."

As part of a test for UAVs, the scientists used these drones to collect plant population data, such as emergence progress, plant heights, growth stages, plants per acre and numbers of unfurled leaves. UAVs are capable of flying as low as 100 feet above the ground, whereas small, manned aircraft must remain at elevations between 2,000 and 3,000 feet.

UAVs can also zoom in to a resolution of approximately one-eighth of an inch. In contrast, planes and satellites are limited to collecting images at resolutions of about 18 images. UAV images may also be collected during bad weather, which makes them huge in terms of future agricultural data gathering.

"These applications are built on sound research that characterizes relationships between observable phenomena and plant performance," said Wes Burger, MAFES associate director. "Precision-agriculture research is about connecting data to decisions. The meaningful data within those applications helps drive every decision the farmer makes in the field."

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