Kansas State researches using drones to protect crops
Salina Kansas State University is researching how to use drones to detect invasive insects and emerging diseases in wheat fields.
The $1.74 million, three-year project will initially target the Russian wheat aphid and wheat stripe rust, also commonly referred to as "yellow rust." The university's research partners are Australia's Queensland University of Technology, the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries, and the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Kansas State says drone flights will be conducted in fields around Kansas. Researchers in Australia are conducting complementary flights to collect supporting data. Australia and Kansas have similar agricultural systems and concerns about incest pests and emerging diseases.
Images of crops will be gathered by drones so that crop infestations can be detected early, and samples of crops will be collected as well. Kansas has about 9 million acres of wheat that the project hopes to cover.
According to Brian McCornack, an associate professor of entomology at Kansas State University in Manhattan and principal investigator, "The insects that they are trying to keep out are the ones that we've had here for quite a while and been managing."
The Salina Journal reports that Travis Balthazor, who will be the lead drone pilot, says that unmanned aircraft have been used for mapping, but have not been used to look for specific species.
"Being able to look at the larger picture and keep zoning in to identify exactly where that species is, that is pretty cool," Balthazor said. "Then after you find it, to be able to fly out there and get an actual sample is something we have never actually done before. That is the goal."
Currently, farmers and ranchers look for crop infestation by hand.