Digital agriculture connects dots for crop improvement

Date of publication : 2/26/2021
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Drones, big data, practical application cornerstones for agricultural enhancement

Crop production is getting a boost thanks to high-tech methods of collecting, managing and analyzing data that are being used by Texas A&M AgriLife researchers and others.

Digital agriculture connects dots for crop improvement - Image 1“Researchers with Texas A&M AgriLife Research, along with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agents and experts at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Purdue University, have been creating a platform for collecting and analyzing data from images provided by unmanned aerial vehicles,” said Juan Landivar, Ph.D., director for the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Corpus Christi. “This process of gathering ‘big data’ for analysis and interpretation for practical application on the farm can be used toward the improvement of various agricultural crops.” 

Initial development of that platform, now the cornerstone of the Texas A&M AgriLife Digital Agricultural Program, DAP, was supported by funding from Cotton Incorporated, Landivar said. This funding made it possible for researchers to collaborate with digital experts to investigate and develop ways for improving cotton production.   

“Funding from Cotton Incorporated not only got us started with the research, but it also gave us traction that allowed us to get additional funding through grants and from other sources,” he said.

Landivar said in addition to the work the DAP has done toward enhancing cotton production, it has also begun to use similar technology for data collection, analysis and interpretation to help improve wheat and vegetable production in Texas.


Using drones to gather data for agricultural production

“Using drones allows us to obtain high-resolution images, obtain accurate measurements, develop helpful algorithms, determine patterns within crops and get a more complete picture of overall crop development,” Landivar said.

In relation to cotton improvement, Texas A&M AgriLife researchers have been using the drones’ remote sensing imagery to measure patterns of cotton plant canopy growth, plant maturity, leaf drop, open bolls and areas damaged by weather or disease.

“Proper analysis and application of such data can be used to make important crop management decisions that can improve both quality and yield,” Landivar said. “Before this technology, producers and researchers spent a lot of time walking through the fields looking for evidence of insect or disease pressure, checking on how well a crop was developing and trying to determine the right time for applications. Now real-time data crucial to production decision-making can be relayed directly to the producer.”

Remote-sensing technology allows producers to quickly and accurately measure the spatial variability of every square foot of a planted field, Landivar said. In as little as a half-hour of flight time, it is possible to map a 100-acre field and create 3D models of the plants.

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