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Partnership explores advantages of drone-use in farming

Posted at 9:25 PM, Jul 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-17 23:50:13-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Tx. — In addition to tractors, plows, and combines, a partnership between a research agency and a local university says farmers should add drones to their equipment lists.

"With drones, it's just another way of collecting data," Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center at Corpus Christi Director Juan Landivar said. "It makes it much much faster and cheaper."

The data includes aerial images of farms that tell farmers how well their crops are doing. Drones fly pre-planned flight paths to ensure consistency and complete coverage.

"It's going to follow the path in a zig zag motion," AgriLife agricultural researcher and drone pilot Daniel Gonzalez said. "That's going to allow the drone to actually cover the whole area that we want to extract information from."

The information extraction is extensive. At a workshop Wednesday Landivar said drones can capture 50 million data points from one scan of a 250 acre field. Computers crunch the numbers and provide valuable information to farmers.

"This is leading edge technology," Landivar said.

Landivar's contribution to the project are big, but so are those of Texas A&M University Corpus Christi Assistant Professor Jinha Jung who's spent five years researching drone-use in farming.

"What the drone brings in here is that they can automate that measurement," Jung said of a drone's ability to scan a farm. "They can get those measurements more accurately and more efficiently in a short time period."

Today's workshop doubled as a goodbye party for Jung who's leaving the Coastal Bend for a job at Purdue University in Indiana. But the partnership between TAMUCC and AgriLife will remain. That's good news for Landivar who says both parties bring a lot to the table.

"Link computer science and engineering with agriculture to solve problems for agriculture," Landivar said.

While drone scanning is effective, it's also expensive. That's why Landivar is working towards calibrating satellites so that they can scan farms as accurately from space as drones can from Earth. It's still in the works, but if the partnership can pull it off, Landivar says it would be a game changer.

"I think the system that we're proposing, using satellite data calibrated with drones, it's going to be pennies per acre versus now which is maybe $10 to $15 per acre," he said.