Louisiana State University Agricultural Center (LSU AgCenter) researchers are trying to determine if using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can help farmers monitor their crops for potential problems.
‘We are investigating the use of UAVs to see what the capabilities are,’ comments Randy Price, LSU AgCenter engineer. ‘From what we can tell, the technology appears to be promising.’
Price says a UAV was used recently to check on freeze damage in a sugarcane field by taking photographs that could be viewed once the vehicle returned to the ground. He adds that one of the first projects involves sending up a UAV equipped with a sensor to measure the vegetative index of a crop. The device measures the green growth of a plant, giving a possible indication if additional fertilizer is needed on specific areas of a field.
Jimmy Flanagan, LSU AgCenter county agent in St. Mary Parish, is learning to use a helicopter UAV to fly over sugarcane fields to determine if adequate fertilizer has been applied across a field. He notes the aircraft will be useful in maturing fields of sugarcane and corn, where it is difficult to scout tall crops for disease and insufficient fertilizer.
The agricultural center notes that Charles Malveaux, an LSU AgCenter research associate, has built three UAVs capable of flying themselves on a programmed mission, with two more on the way.
The LSU AgCenter is applying for a special Federal Aviation Administration permit to conduct further research and eventually publish a research paper.