CARRINGTON, N.D. — A new tool for precision agriculture was launched on May 5 with the first flight of an unmanned aircraft vehicle (UAV) at the Carrington Research Extension Center (CREC).
It was also a first for the agricultural industry, according to Robert Becklund, executive director of the Northern Plains UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) site.
“This is the first time an UAV has been flown for agricultural use in the United States,” Becklund said.
The aircraft flown at Carrington was a four-rotor hovercraft type vehicle that was equipped with both still and video cameras. The rotors were powered by electric motors running off a rechargeable battery that would power the UAV for about 20 minutes before needing a recharge.
The first flights of the day were test flights that allowed the UAV flyers a chance to become better acquainted with handling the craft, and the afternoon flights allowed the collection of data to begin, according to John Nowatzki, NDSU Extension ag machinery systems specialist and the principal investigator on the project.
Three areas were covered in the data collection process on the first day. The first was a winter wheat field, where winter kill was being measured. The second site covered was the feedlot area, where manure pack temperatures were being recorded, and the final area was a general field setting that had a large water-filled pothole.
Later in the season, soybean crop management will also be added to the project list. This segment of the program calls for using UAS weekly collected imagery on five soybean fields to demonstrate how it can assist in identifying crop problems such as iron deficiency chlorosis, nitrogen deficiencies, soybean cyst nematode damage, compare the relative impacts of saline-affected areas on soybean growth and yield and relative yield potential.
The investigators will correlate UAS imagery with satellite imagery collected on the same dates. The investigators will also compare fixed-wing and multi-rotary UAS aircraft platforms to collect the imagery.
The primary goal of this project, according to Nowatzki, is a proof-of-concept of the usefulness and effectiveness of UAS in crop and livestock management in North Dakota. Results from this first year of UAS research will be used to:
–Develop methods to convert image data to information (such as crop emergence, stand count, soil surface salinity, crop fertility status, disease incidence, grazing animal health, bedding temperature distribution, etc.) that would be useful to agricultural producers and crop consultants; and
–Develop business models by North Dakota crop and livestock consulting companies and UAS manufacturers and distributors.
Personnel will use UAS weekly to monitor each specific project as requested by the principal research investigator on the project. Principal investigators for each research project will determine the dates and frequency of UAS operations for their research projects.
The expected outcomes of this project, Nowatzki noted, are to: 1) Validate specific uses of UAS in crop and livestock production management decisions; 2) Identify significant UAS services for the private sector projects; and 3) Promote the commercialization of unmanned aerial systems using sensors to manage specific crop and livestock management decisions.