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Idaho State University researchers, partners employ unmanned aircraft systems to detect threats to crops in Southeast Idaho


Idaho State University is leading a research project that will use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to create new methods of addressing agricultural crop threats in potato fields.

The advantage of using UAS is the capability to scan large areas of potato fields to identify the impacts of crop pests and nutrient deficiencies.

“Our new approach to protect important food crops such as potatoes is using sophisticated sensors on UAS flights to gather information that allows us to determine the health of crops,” said Donna Delparte, an Idaho State University Geosciences assistant research professor who is the project director for the $150,000 seed grant, titled “Addressing threats to potato crops using precision agriculture” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Remote sensing technologies,” continued Delparte, “offer the potential to protect U.S. food security by providing rapid assessments of crop health over large areas.”

Delparte’s graduate student, Mike Griffel, a masters of Geographic Information Science student at ISU, is looking forward to using the latest technologies in precision agriculture that include UAS, multi-spectral imaging and ground-based surveys.

“This research will allow us to develop a protocol that will aid growers in the rapid detection of crop health issues,” Griffel said.

ISU’s public partners on this project are researchers from Boise State University, the University of Idaho and the Idaho National Laboratory. The private partners on this project are Empire Aerospace, Advanced Aviation Solutions (ADAVSO), Robert Blair, Blair Farms, Driscoll Farms, Driscoll Brothers, Wada Farms, Walters Produce NG Nickell Farms. J.R. Simplot Company is contributing precision agriculture equipment for on the ground surveys to compare to the aerial mapping scans.

“Each of the enterprises brings a unique perspective to the project and adds value to the end results,” Delparte said. “We are proud to have these accomplished stakeholders on our team as industry advisors and participants.”

The UAS can provide early detection of crop stress and be used in a preventative manner for crop management strategies. Using the UAS for analyzing crops also has the potential to examine how climate change may affect crop production as crop threats expand their range and capacity for long-term impacts into new areas.

Once remote sensing techniques using UAS are developed, like the ones being developed for potatoes, they are transferable to similar crops and environments, and can be used throughout the world. One of the primary goals of the research project is to ensure grower involvement in every step of the research.

Co-Investigator Louise-Marie Dandurand at the University of Idaho is a potato crop health researcher who will be conducting scans of potato plants in the greenhouse to compare results to from the UAS field surveys.
Derek Wadsworth from INL will be contributing expertise in UAS and data collection utilizing high-resolution hyperspectral scanners.

Utilizing UAS for monitoring agricultural crops is growing in popularity in Idaho.

“Robert Blair and Blair Farms has recently been deploying UAS systems over crops in northern Idaho. Blair Farms has been in operation for over 100 years and has found this technology to be extremely helpful to his farming business,” Delparte said.

ADAVSO, will be working closely with the researchers on determining the most effective UAS and Sensor combinations, flight operations and assure our researchers will meet the aggressive test completion timelines. Also based in Idaho, ADAVSO is a firm specializing in UAS operations, requirements-based UAS applications, pilot certification, training and applications of this technology.

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