MSU drone flies in to grow farming yield
EAST LANSING — A drone has joined the vehicle fleet at Michigan State University, which is using the pilotless airplane to find ways to help farmers increase their yields through better use of fertilizer and water.
The National Science Foundation is financing the research.
The East Lansing school says the information that the drone gathers also will help reduce the environmental effect of nitrate leaching and nitrous oxide emissions.
The university says the drone "measures how crops react to stress, such as drought, nutrients deficiency or pests." It says the plane can document a field's status "down to centimeters."
With the detailed knowledge, farmers can quickly spot problem areas and address them with a precise response, Bruno Basso, an ecosystem scientist at Michigan State, said.
"When you have a cut and need disinfectant, you don't dive into a pool of medicine; you apply it only where you need it and in the quantity that is strictly necessary," said Basso, who also works at Michigan State's Kellogg Biological Station. "Rather than covering the entire field with fertilizer, it can be applied exactly where it's needed. We basically try to do the right thing, at right place, at the right time"
The drone has three censors: a high-resolution radiometer, a thermal camera to monitor plant temperature and hydration and a laser scanner.
Basso said the drone "is like an X-ray. Before we can diagnose the problem, we need to collect as many details as possible."
The sensor data can be plugged into the System Approach for Land-Use Sustainability model. Known as SALUS, the crop tool forecasts crop, soil, water, and nutrient conditions in the climate of the present and the future, the university said.
It also can be used to evaluate crop rotations, planting dates, irrigation and fertilizer use and project crop yields and their effect on the land.
"It's based on actual need, not on tradition, not on history or a plan recommended by someone else," Basso said. "It's what plants need now and is the ultimate in sustainability."