At AgriLife Research, we see enormous potential for the use of advanced remote sensing platforms in agriculture to improve efficiency of crop and livestock production. More specifically, these systems will help conserve our natural resources, decrease the use of pesticides, improve the precision with which nutrients are applied to crops, help manage plant diseases, and much more.
In particular, using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to fly sensors over fields could one day make farm management more efficient, less expensive, and more customizable. These vehicles could obtain data of greater resolution than is possible with currently available platforms such as satellite-based sensing.
One example of how a remote sensing platform may be used is in a current collaborative effort between three Texas A&M entities—Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension and Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi—along with the citrus industry. The project is currently focused on detecting early signs of citrus greening, a devastating disease of citrus trees in Texas and worldwide, and creating more timely solutions for mitigation and curtailing the spread of the disease.
The project based at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco is studying the use of small, unmanned vehicle–based systems with high-resolution sensors to detect early signs of disease (such as specific volatile chemical compounds) and predictors of where citrus greening might strike next (such as new leaf growth). The team aims to improve the sensitivity of the sensors, find the best ways to interpret data, and educate growers about the technology.
Dr. Juan Landivar, who heads the AgriLife Research and Extension Centers at Corpus Christi and Weslaco, says UAS and new remote sensing technologies could eventually provide critical information in real time. Compare that to tractor-mounted sensors, for instance, which can only be deployed when a tractor is already scheduled to go over a field. With citrus greening, as with other plant and livestock diseases, timing is key to preventing the disease’s rapid spread and resulting economic losses.
AgriLife Research recently hosted a symposium on UAS and remote sensing that drew an overflowing crowd from various units of The Texas A&M University System. The feature story in this issue of our newsletter offers more information on the many possibilities discussed at the symposium.
AgriLife Research and its collaborators will be focusing on R&D efforts to improve the sensors, the data analysis methods, and the platforms for these systems, and we are working with the Texas Legislature to encourage further research into this promising new management tool for agriculture and natural resources.