Shannon Baker prepares a quadcopter for flight over Texas A&M AgriLife Research wheat breeding plots in Moore County.
He said the inaugural flight took place in the wheat breeding plots near Dumas.
Dr. Jackie Rudd, AgriLife Research wheat breeder in Amarillo, said his interest was in quantifying traits in the wheat breeding yield trials.
“There are 2,000 plots at this site we use for the wheat variety breeding process,” Rudd said. “Each will be combined separately, weighed and analyzed for quality. This UAS flight was a trial run for us, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results. The flight data clearly shows chaff color, lodging, shattering, height, head density and if outside sources such as animals may have damaged a plot. This is important when the combine harvests the grain and there is something to look at when the yield is lower than expected.
“Right now, it is more of a confirmation of what we already documented by walking the plots or wheat we saw coming through on the combine,” he said.
Shannon Baker, research associate with the wheat breeding program in Amarillo, piloted the drone.
Baker said it typically takes about six hours to walk all the plots and take notes, and “we do that three to four times a growing season.” With the quadcopter, she expects to be able to take weekly data in about 30 minutes per session.
“We will be able to estimate more accurately growth rate and progression of individual breeding lines and varieties,” Rudd said. “We will be able to quantify recognizable injury such as hail damage, lodging, shattering or other physical damage. And, we can look for signatures of diseases such as stripe rust or wheat streak mosaic virus, for example.”
Auvermann said on all crops more scanning by the UAS will help researchers estimate yields early in the season and make labor management decisions based on what they see.
Another benefit, he said, will be the ability to track irrigation – what the soil moisture is like and the extent to which drought stress is showing up in the health of the plants.
“Texas A&M AgriLife Research in Amarillo is moving decisively into drone-based research and we invite anyone to contact us if you they have any questions about what we are doing and why,” he said.
This story by Kay Ledbetter originally appeared in AgriLife Today.