USDA funds drone research to improve wheat yields

By Luke Geiver | December 20, 2016

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is turning its eyes to the sky to find the next breeding breakthrough in U.S. wheat fields. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded a Kansas State University researcher $300,000 to perform a research project aimed at improving wheat yield and speeding up plant breeding processes with the help of small unmanned aircraft vehicles. 

“Wheat delivers a significant amount of daily nutrients for American families and people around the world,” according to Sonny Ramawamy, NIFA director. “As demand for wheat grows with the population, wheat research plays a vital role in meeting that need.” 

According to the lead researcher, Jesse Poland an assistant professor of agronomy and the associate director of the Wheat Genetics Resource Center at KSU, the goal of the project is to accelerate genetic gain in wheat breeding programs through the implementation of field-based high-throughput phenotyping combined with genomic prediction modeling. 

UAVs will be equipped with a range of spectral and thermal imaging capabilities. Throughout the entire growing season, the sUAVs will be flown to gather images and data. Georectified orthomosaic images will be overlaid with plot level and boundaries and other data gathered from the UAVs. 

The data gathered from the UAVs will then be put into improved algorithms that will eventually be made publically available through project websites after the research is complete in November 2017. 

AFRI, authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill, is the nation’s premier peer-reviewed competitive grants program for fundamental and applied agricultural sciences.