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UAV project to study potato stress

Eastern Idaho potato growers hope to discover stresses to their crops before symptoms are visible to the naked eye this season through collaborative research with the state’s three universities and the Idaho National Laboratory. The project will entail using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) to fly over 2,388 potato acres on a weekly basis, scanning crops with multispectral cameras, which detect near-infrared and other frequencies humans can’t see. The maps from these multi-spectral imagery will depict crop stresses — such as lack of water, nutrient deficiencies and diseases. The project was recently awarded a $150,000 USDA grant. Nancy Glenn, a Boise State University geosciences professor, will serve as an adviser on hyper-spectral imaging.

“The idea is to make a very rapid assessment of a crop and come up with some parameters to detect what the problems might be, and that allows a grower to make a rapid management response to any kind of threat to the crop,” said Donna Delparte, an assistant professor at Idaho State University, who is serving as the project’s lead researcher.

Participating potato growers include Wada Farms, Walters Produce, Driscoll Brothers and K.G. Nickell Farms. Derek Wadsworth, who heads INL’s UAV program, will contribute a larger, fixed-wing UAV with a heavier and more detailed hyper-spectral camera. INL’s UAV will fly over the research fields twice during the season, allowing the researchers to analyze how effectively cameras with differing levels of detail can detect crop stresses. University of Idaho plant pathologist Louise-Marie Dandurand will inoculate potato plants in a greenhouse with certain diseases and expose some of them to nutrient and water stress in order to establish a baseline for how different crop problems should appear under spectrometers. J.R. Simplot, Co., will contribute precision agriculture equipment, including ground-based sensors used to measure soil moisture.

Source: Capital Press

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