Fargo, N.D. – NDSU researchers are taking to the air to monitor crop and livestock research projects on the ground. Several researchers on campus are working with colleagues at NDSU's Carrington Research Extension Center to evaluate whether unmanned aircraft systems, known as UAS, can be effective management tools in crop and livestock production.
"There is currently much interest in using UAS in agriculture," says John Nowatzki, the NDSU Extension Service's agricultural machine systems specialist and the lead investigator on this project. "However, there is little research to show that UAS can be used effectively or economically for crop or livestock management."
Researchers are using unmanned aircraft system-mounted thermal, infrared sensors and cameras that capture image data at specific frequencies to collect data from fields and livestock at specified times.The researchers plan to identify plant emergence and populations in corn, soybeans and sunflowers, and nitrogen deficiencies in corn and wheat. They also are hoping the unmanned aircraft systems can help them make early plant health assessments, and spot disease and insect damage symptoms, weed infestations and indications of moisture stress on irrigated crops.
In addition, they plan to use the unmanned aircraft systems to determine the impacts of tillage and crop rotations on crop emergence, vigor and yield, and the impacts of soil salinity on crop yields, as well as monitor the dry-down times of individual corn hybrids to determine when to harvest the crops.
Crop production researchers have identified at least 40 research trials at the Carrington center they want included in the unmanned aircraft systems project, according to Blaine Schatz, the center's director. For example, researchers plan to monitor the breeding activity of the center's beef cattle, count the cattle in pastures to make sure they are where they are supposed to be, detect animals that are ill so they can be isolated from the rest of the herd and treated as quickly as possible, and identify animals that are aggressive toward other livestock or humans so they can be removed from herds.
Researchers also intend to monitor animal temperatures and determine the feedlot surface temperatures of various bedding materials to mitigate stress from extreme weather conditions. The University of North Dakota's Center for Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research, Education and Training is collaborating on this research by flying the unmanned aircraft systems at the Carrington center. In addition to finding out whether unmanned aircraft systems are effective in monitoring crop and livestock production, the researchers plan to develop methods to convert the image data to information that's useful to producers and crop consultants, and help producers identify how they can make use of unmanned aircraft systems on their operations.
NDSU is recognized as one of the nation's top 108 public and private research universities by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education.