Drone Takes Flight at Barton Agriculture Research Center

2014_FarmDrone_0002CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., July 25, 2014 – Research capabilities in the Department of Agriculture at Southeast Missouri State University are on an advanced path thanks to the addition of a new high tech tool – an unmanned aerial vehicle or “drone” – designed to enhance student learning.

“Emerging technology is critical to farm profitability and increasing the quantity and quality of agriculture products,” said Dr. Mike Aide, chair of the Department of Agriculture.

Aide and Dr. Indi Braden, associate professor of agriculture, were trained on operating the drone Wednesday at the David M. Barton Agriculture Research Center. Brandon Copeland and Bryan Mainord, representatives with MRM-Ag Services of East Prairie, Mo., assisted in calibrating the new device and demonstrating the drone’s capabilities. Four Southeast students participated in the training, as well.

The new drone carries a minute, high-powered camera that shoots both photos and video. Southeast agriculture faculty plan to use the drone for survey purposes with a focus on agriculture research, including spatial analysis and precision techniques.

“Most of the research usage will involve assessing the nutrient status of crops. We will also use the drone to scout for diseases and insects in the fields,” Aide said.

MRM officials say the drone can travel at speeds up to 35 miles per hour and can ascend 400 feet in the air. A hand-held controller or an iPad are used to operate the vehicle.MRM and Indi

Researchers have been exploring the use of drones in agriculture to meet increased food production needs. Drones are already used for agriculture production in other countries, Aide said.

The drone will gather accurate data about crops and improve efficiency in agriculture fields, he said. By improving accuracy in the data-gathering process, the precise amount of chemicals, fertilizers and nutrients the soil needs will be used, and farm runoff will be reduced, which will help reduce farming costs and protect the environment.

It also will help improve precision in agriculture fields, Aide said. The drone can fly over fields, and crops to take measurements and gather data in a way similar to satellite processes. However, a drone makes the process of gathering data easier and more effective than using a satellite, he said.

“Today’s agriculture is advancing in science and technology.  Precision agriculture using spatial imagery and remote sensing, like the UAV [drone], will help producers evaluate and improve production on a whole different scale,” Braden said. “With this technology, crop systems can be viewed on a micro-scale or a landscape survey. We are very excited about the opportunity to involve our students in this technology and progressing research potential.”

drone closeupStudents in precision agriculture, crop sciences, spatial analysis and GeoInfo Science Today classes also will learn to use the drone for educational and research purposes.

Aide said students learning to use the drone will be carefully monitored by trained faculty members.

Students in plant science classes such water management, and cotton and rice production also will use the drone. Students will enter the flight path and camera orientations to assess crops for specific purposes. Students will then evaluate the data for assessing changes to the integrated crop management plan.

Faculty members in Southeast’s Department of Agriculture are learning to use the drone to enhance their ability to gather data on fields and crops and improve student learning.

The drone will be used in private fields of cooperating landowners and at the David M. Barton Agriculture Research Center, as well as at the Missouri Rice Research Farm in Glennonville, Mo., and at Southeast’s regional campuses in Malden, Kennett and Sikeston, Mo.

The department purchased the drone for agriculture research related purposes, and now is one of just two universities in the Missouri to have one.

“University of Missouri has one, which they use around the state. We are the other player,” Aide said.

Aide says the drone is being funded through private donations.