Farm Progress

An aerial perspective of irrigation management

Down in the Weeds: UNL-led research aims to connect remote-sensed aerial imagery with land-based sensors to get better handle on crop water demands.

March 12, 2018

Listen to my conversation with Wayne Woldt above.

Whether it's in agriculture, real estate or the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, unmanned aircraft have garnered a lot of attention lately.

In the latest installment of Down in the Weeds, we visit with Wayne Woldt, water resources engineer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, on upcoming researching using unmanned aerial systems to measure crop water demands and make variable-rate irrigation prescriptions.

"Of course, Nebraska is a big state for irrigation, so we need to be conscious of that. And also, variable-rate irrigation technology is emerging from the manufacturers — the providers of the systems," Woldt says. "And while it's possible to use or install a variable-rate irrigation system, the process of making the decisions about how much to apply, where to apply, when to apply it, is still a challenge, especially if you're just working at the ground level."

Woldt, along with other researchers at UNL, the Daugherty Water for Food Institute and the University of Colorado-Boulder, are researching the use of UASs not only to get a better understanding of in-field dynamics between soil water-holding capacity and plant water uptake and water stress, but also to correlate what land-based sensors like soil moisture probes are telling them, and comparing that with remote-sensed imagery from UAS.

"What we're looking at is the correlation between what we're seeing from our remotely sensed data, which is remote spectral and thermal as well as optical, and the field data we're collecting," Woldt says. "If we were to, at this point in time, have the remote-sensed data, we may have a tough time determining what's happening. We could maybe say there's stress in this area and it needs attention, which is kind of what a lot of current services are offering, which is awesome. But we're trying to take it to the next step, which is toward being able to identify more about what's happening there."

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