College Station, Texas
The College Station UAS team conducts their field trails at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Brazos Bottom Research Farm (BBRF) in Burleson County, Texas. The farm is only about 10 miles from the Texas A&M University main campus and consists of 1,600 acres of crop fields and plots. Major field crops including corn, cotton, sorghum, and wheat are grown there for breeding and agronomic (B&A) research. Several researchers have control over individual/groups of fields and utilize the UAS operations to validate their current research. The College Station group involves over 40 faculty across multiple disciplines and colleges and is divided into A.) the Plant Breeding Team that focuses on comparing varieties and stress treatments in breeding and B.) the Agronomy Team that focuses on identifying differences and needs in management directly applicable to farmers. In the last 2 years, 2015-2016, we have utilized a variety of fixed winged and rotary winged UAVs as well as multispectral, visual (RGB), Lidar, and thermal sensors.
Lower Rio Grande Valley (Corpus Christi and Weslaco, Texas)
The Corpus Christi UAS team conducts their projects at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, Corpus Christi, TX and its satellite research facility at Beeville, TX. Research is being conducted to develop standard platforms and methodologies for data collection, analysis, and interpretation of various crops including cotton, grain sorghum, energy sorghum, wheat, corn, and perennial grasses. Major focus of the group has been on small research plots and rotorcraft-type platforms that provide high resolution data for agricultural research and plant breeding applications. Fixed-wing platforms are also being investigated due to their potential to cover larger areas. The main strategy for data extraction and analysis is to develop individual crop grid and plot boundaries to extract detailed phenotypic data. Eventually, methodologies developed for small plot research will be scaled-up to benefit farmers, crop consultants, and ranchers alike. The team is also actively collaborating with research scientists at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, Weslaco to develop methodologies for phenotyping specialty crops including tomato, potato, and citrus.
The Beaumont UAS team conducts their projects at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center, Beaumont and its satellite research facility at Eagle Lake, TX. Research is being conducted on: (1) development of superior multispectral methods for future UAS-housed monitoring of crop nutrient and water statuses and oxidative-stress exposure for use in directing precision management of diverse field crops; (2) applications of UAS sensing technology in rice for agronomic management, high-throughput phenotyping and early detection and precision management of rice diseases and insect pests. The foundational methods development uses novel analysis of hyperspectral reflectance patterns in the ultraviolet through shortwave infrared region to develop simplified narrowband indices of high sensitivity and specificity. Methods to correct for cloud shadows are part of this research. The applied UAS research in support of rice crop management and breeding is funded through the Texas Rice Research Foundation and focuses on methods that can be adopted in the near-term using existing commercially available technology.
High Plains (Amarillo and Lubbock, Texas)
Strategy and Teams
Develop a pipeline for agricultural researchers (basic through applied) and farmers to obtain useful data from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), remote sensing, and ground vehicles. Leverage each researcher’s expertise and interest for maximum gain:
- Flight Operations team (Mechanical Engineering, Ecosystem Sciences) coordinate with the FAA, plan flight missions, execute flights, and collect useable data
- Sensors team (Agricultural Engineering, Ecosystem Sciences) manage the sensors used onboard the UAVs, ensure that the image data received by other researchers is of high quality
- Data Management team (Geography, Ecosystem Sciences) conduct pre-processing to geographically correct images, construct image mosaics, develop algorithms to detect features, extract features from the image, works with other researchers to develop analytic technique
- Field Research team (Plant Breeding, Crop Science, Soil Science, Weed Science, Plant Pathology, Entomology, Animal Science, and Ecosystems Sciences etc.) primary data users for addressing practical and biological questions. Evaluate quality with respect to the ground-truth data they collect; develop and use analytic tools in order to facilitate basic and applied research. Work with farmers to translate findings
- Economic and Social Science team (Economics, Social Sciences) address questions of value, acceptance, and ethics in the use of UAS technologies in agriculture
- Administration team provides and manages funds, coordinates meetings and initiatives, and assists and encourages faculty members in garnering external funding for follow-up research