College Station, Texas
The College Station UAS team conducts their field trials at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Brazos Bottom Research Farm 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 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 20 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 5 years, 2015-2019, 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.
Multiple Vernon Research and Extension Center programs conduct their UAS projects at Vernon, it’s satellite research station at Chillicothe, TX in Hardeman County, and the Smith-Walker Ranch in the Wilbarger County. Currently, our efforts are focused on collection of physiological and phenological data from cotton and legume experiments to monitor crop growth and assess nutrient/water stress, and also to use the collected data to evaluate crop growth and hydrologic models. We use two rotary UAVs, a multispectral sensor and a visual (RGB) sensor for our projects. Vernon team members are also actively collaborating with scientists at Corpus Christi, Halfway and Amarillo on various research projects. The UAS research efforts are supported with funding from Cotton Incorporated and USDA-NIFA. We plan on extending our efforts to sorghum and cover crops, and to monitor vegetation and bare ground characteristics under different grazing management practices and study brush growth under different control treatments.
The AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Stephenville is our newest addition to our UAS program. Researchers are anticipating using UAS to enhance their plant breeding, entomology, rangeland, and animal agriculture programs. Specifically, this team is focused on using UAS in their statewide peanut breeding program to look at emergence counts, growth patterns, plant architecture, physiological stress/drought stress, yield, disease detection, and pod load estimation. In entomology, the researchers are interested in monitoring and identifying insects to develop insect threshold recommendations for individual crops. This information will directly affect the amount of insecticide used by producers. Other entomological interests include accurately measuring red imported fire ant mound building and Bermudagrass stem maggot. In rangeland ecology researchers will be monitoring, identifying and estimating the presence of desirable and undesirable species in native species restoration projects. Uses for UAVs in animal agriculture include monitoring of pests and overall herd health as well as obtaining grazing threshold recommendations and rotational studies. In addition, it can be used in wildlife species estimates.