Last week I traveled to the University of Delaware extension office in Georgetown, DE to learn how to fly our new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV, aka "the drone"). Born and raised in California's East Bay, I grew up playing with real sticks and not joysticks, so there was a rather steep learning curve when it came to landing the plane. James Adkins and Jarrod Miller were both naturals, of course, and will surely need to purchase a remote control plane "for practice." I don't think either one of them are too upset about that!
Ryan Baskette, from PrecisionHawk, came up from Raleigh, NC to train us to fly the plane over a soybean field near the Extension office. The fixed-wing plane can hold either a RGB camera or NIR camera depending on what we are interested in measuring - plant number, potential pests, nutrient status, etc. She is hand-launched (i.e. thrown gently) and then flies to altitude of 60m, where she creates a flight plan to survey a pre-selected area of interest. After only about 15 minutes, she comes in to land (this is where the remote control comes in), and she touches town gently (hopefully). Data can be immediately downloaded to a laptop and within an hour, we can see if the area was adequately captured.
We hope to use this technology to locate "problem" areas within farm fields and target management to these smaller areas rather than treat the field as a single unit (a practice known as precision agriculture). Such targeted practices will improve water, energy, and nutrient use efficiency benefitting both the environment and a farmer's bottom line.
Dr. Kate Tully
Kate is an Assistant Professor of Agroecology at the University of Maryland.
Briana is a MS student in AgroEcoLab and studies how cover crop management affects weed suppression and nutrient cycling.
Dani is a PhD student in the AgroEcoLab and studies the effects of sea level rise on coastal farming communities and estuarine biogeochemistry.
Resham is a PhD student in the AgroEcoLab and studies how to improve water and nutrient use efficiency in cover crop systems.