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Drones capture crop height — Student’s project recognised for its implications for the agriculture industry

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New research from the WA School of Mines, Curtin University has explored how the use of drones can be used to monitor crop height to determine the best course of disease and pest control.

Surveying Honours student John Long’s research involved flying UAVs — unmanned aerial vehicles — fitted with consumer-grade cameras over 54 trial wheat plots to obtain crop height imagery, data which was then used to compare growth over time.

He said the plots were seeded with six different wheat varieties and treated with varying herbicides and the resulting height data was illustrated by a scaled colour scheme — red for limited growth and blue for significant growth areas.

Mr Long said this type of UAV usage could help growers to better identify the best treatments to apply to their crops to maximise yields.

The honours project earned him a Hexagon Geospatial-sponsored award in the field of remote sensing.

“The primary focus is on the detection of crop growth rates and devising an easy methodology for acquiring the data which consequently improves crucial farming decisions,” Mr Long said.

“Using this imagery, specific crops of interest can be targeted and analyses can be made to depict the highest crop out of the field, at a specific point in time.

“This data creates results for farmers or agronomists to quickly assess the health of the crops and develop certain strategies of attaining ultimate crop performance.”

Mr Long said the project was driven by the need to apply this type of technology to Western Australia’s farming terrain.

“As WA is Australia’s largest grain producing region as well as one of the biggest pest and disease-free agriculture production areas in the world, it is crucial for the State to maintain clean and ultimate cropping yields,” he said.

“To maintain this, improved crop monitoring systems are required to achieve the best potential yields while having a minimal impact on the environment with non-destructive forms of measurement.”

Professor Bert Veenendaal, Head of Department of Spatial Sciences, Curtin WA School of Mines, said the research further demonstrated the importance of UAV technology to the agricultural industry.

Mr Long’s research was conducted at a Centre for Crop and Disease Management (CCDM) trial site at the Muresk Institute in WA’s Wheatbelt area.

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