The need for higher resolution images in remote sensing projects has led to a new technique using agricultural airplanes in the Mississippi Delta.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS) agricultural engineer Steven J. Thomson, located in the ARS Application and Production Technology Research Unit, Stoneville, Miss., is applying remote sensing technology using agricultural aircraft to projects as diverse as crop water stress management, invasive imported fire ant control (a concern for ranchers and growers alike) and catfish production.
Thomson initially developed the method to collect field images as part of a concept known as precision agriculture. The idea is to determine only those areas in a field that require more attention by growers of cotton, soybeans, corn and other crops. This practice helps growers save on their input costs, such as fertilizer and pesticide, and reduces runoff.
An advantage of using agricultural aircraft is that they are potentially easier to schedule for remote sensing because they are frequently used in the field for pesticide spray operations, according to Thomson.
The new system is being used in studies for several applications with a variety of cameras, such as weed detection in cotton and soybean fields using digital video, and detection of crop nutrient or water stress using thermal imaging.
The use of agricultural aircraft for observation, as well as for spraying, has advantages other than additional utilization of the planes, including flexibility in how high or low the plane is flown. Flying an airplane close to the ground avoids atmosheric interference experienced with satellite images.
Although agricultural aircraft can be flown at a variety of altitudes, low flights limit the ability to capture images of large areas at once. That problem is overcome by making multiple flights over the site and assembling many images over different portions.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.
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