By Kendra Evensen
POCATELLO — An assistant professor at Idaho State University’s Department of Geosciences is leading an experimental project that could aid in the early detection of potato crop threats.
Donna Delparte is directing the project — funded by a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant — which will use Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to do potato crop surveys at farms in southeast and northern Idaho.
“This is an experimental project to identify different crop threats that may emerge over the growing season,” Delparte said. “Ideally we will be able to provide early detection of any problem or issue that will allow the grower to rapidly respond.”
The UAS platforms will give investigators a birds-eye view of the agricultural crops they fly over, Delparte said, adding that they will be using a multicopter that has been outfitted with a GPS and mulitspectral camera sensor, among others.
“What makes our UAS platforms unique is that they carry advanced GPS sensors that allow us to precisely map and create photo mosaics of the crops below using a multispectral camera,” she said. “The multispectral camera allows us to understand the health of the crop by viewing it beyond what we can see in the visible part of the spectrum by using infrared.”
Delparte is working with three co-investigators: Louise-Marie Dandurand with the University of Idaho, a potato plant agronomist who will be doing greenhouse research; Nancy Glenn with Boise State University, who will serve as an adviser on hyperspectral imaging and advanced remote sensing analysis; and Derek Wadsworth with the Idaho National Laboratory, who will serve as the specialist in unmanned aerial vehicles, electronics and robotics. She’s also working with graduate students Mike Griffel and Ben Nickell on the project, she said, adding that other partners include the J.R. Simplot Company, Steve Edgar with Advanced Aviation Solutions, and various growers in southeast and northern Idaho.
Delparte believes that using UAS platforms to help detect threats could give farmers the timely information they need to ensure the health and sustainability of their crops, she said.
“Our ultimate goal for this project is to work closely with farmers to use these UAS platforms to develop tools, products and information that will be helpful to them in ensuring food security, crop protection and long-term sustainability,” she said.
Delparte said they will use a multicopter to collect weekly multispectral data from potato crops. They will then compare that data with scans they collect from greenhouse plants that have been exposed to pathogens and pests commonly seen in the fields.
“So if we know a sick plant in the greenhouse is showing a spectral scan that indicates some disease or virus, we can compare that spectral scan with field data,” she said. “If there is a match, we can sample the field potatoes to see if they have the same sickness or problem as the plant in the greenhouse.”
Delparte said they are looking forward to working with area growers on the project, and they hope their efforts will not only help those in the agricultural business, but will also lend support to the development of a Center of Excellence in UAS in Idaho.
“The state commerce department has been talking about this idea and it would be an incredible benefit to the state to become a leader in this rapidly growing area,” she said.