Earlier today we referenced the changing assumptions in how plants retain water during high carbon dioxide conditions. Luckily for farmers with a little tech-savviness, they may have a new tool available to quantify water stress in plants: drones fitted with infrared thermometers. Catherine Elton reports:
In the quest to maximize the efficiency of agriculture for a growing planet, farmers have recently turned to drones. They are using them to detect pests and to map weeds. More recently, researchers have demonstrated that they can aid farmers in making smarter, more efficient use of irrigation water. This helps farmers not only increase yield, but also conserve a valuable resource in high demand.
Researchers’ early forays into employing drones for this end involved mounting them with thermal cameras to take measurements of canopy-air temperature above the crops. Canopy-air temperature is the basis of a widely used index for water stress in plants. The problem with this system is that thermal cameras are expensive, putting them out of reach of many farmers.
A group of Spanish researchers recently found a cheaper approach. In a study published in the journal Precision Agriculture, they showed that a drone mounted with an infrared thermometer does just as good a job—even better, in some regards—at measuring water stress in crops as thermal cameras. But the infrared system can do it as a fraction of the cost.
For the study, the researchers mounted a small infrared thermometer, along with a processor to collect data, on a rotary-wing drone. They conducted a series of flights over sugar beet crops in southwestern Spain to collect the canopy air temperature. They flew the drones at five different altitudes and over two different fields: a normally irrigated one, and one where irrigation had been partially withheld.
The researchers compared these temperature readings with ones from a thermal camera mounted on a drone, which has been the subject of previous research.
Read the rest of the article in Conservation Magazine.