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How soon will plant breeders trade in observation notebooks for UAVs?How soon will plant breeders trade in observation notebooks for UAVs?

Hi-Tech Farming: Trial use of drones in breeding plots shows promise.

Tom J Bechman 1

March 27, 2017

3 Min Read
EYES IN THE SKY: Some plant breeders believe UAVs can help collect data at crucial times faster than it can be done by people on the ground.

Imagine this scene: A plant breeder walks out to inbred plots. Thousands of potential varieties are in the field. Key information needs to be observed and recorded, such as when each potential line reaches a specific stage of maturity. For years plant breeders have relied on their eyes, a notebook and a pen to make these key observations. Mobile devices may be reducing the writing chores.

Suddenly, an unmanned aerial vehicle appears and flies in low over the plots. It’s equipped with a camera to take specific types of images. When the flight is over, the UAV returns to its home base. At the end of the day, the plant breeder views images on a computer that help him or her zero in more quickly on the lines with the most desirable traits faster than a breeder could ever sort through handwritten data.

Pipe dream or reality? Brian Diers, a soybean breeder at the University of Illinois, says that while it’s not reality yet, it’s certainly more than a pipe dream. He helped conduct a pilot study that demonstrated that UAVs could collect information on the exact maturity point of hundreds of lines faster than a person could by simple observation. Computer scientists, engineers and others assisted him and a graduate student, Nathan Schmitz, in the project.

Using multispectral images collected on the UAV flights, the plant breeders were able to detect minor differences in maturity of various potential soybean lines. A color change helped them sort mature from immature pods. Diers looks forward to helping fine-tune this new scouting technique.

Seek drone innovation
Land O’Lakes is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to fueling innovations regarding UAVs for agriculture. Now that the Federal Aviation Administration has issued guidelines that enable farmers to use drones legally, the next step is figuring out how to make them more productive in obtaining and analyzing data.

Working with a company called HeroX, Land O’Lakes is offering a $140,000 grand prize and two $5,000 runner-up prizes for the best innovative hardware and software solutions that make UAVS more efficient for farmers. Entries are due Aug. 1. Visit herox.com/LOLdrones.

Collect more images
One way to make UAVs more efficient is to increase flight time. The other is to figure out how to get more images per minute of flight time. Crop Copter accomplishes the second option with Version 4.0 of its EZ Health NDVI camera and software package. With the new package, UAVs can fly faster and still obtain high-quality images. That results in more images per flight. Combining EZ Health with an Incident Light Sensor, Brett Haas, an Illinois farmer and owner of Crop Copter, says he can also extend the hours of suitable flying time each day compared to the standard recommendation of flying between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Visit cropcopter.co.

Hands-free headland turning
Autonomous tractors that drive themselves seem less far-fetched than ever after Case IH introduced AccuTurn. Simply put, it’s automated turning technology that takes the guesswork out of turning on headlands. This advanced autoguidance technology provides hands-free automatic and repeatable turns. It is adaptable to various field operations. You can even set it to skip passes if necessary. Learn more at caseih.com/afs.

About the Author(s)

Tom J Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer

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