Kansas State University announces it has received a $975,000 grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) that will use drones to improve the school’s wheat breeding efforts.

The grant is intended to give the university’s scientists a “deeper understanding of in-field conditions” so they can improve wheat breeding programs both in the U.S. and globally. K-State has already used drones to collect data on thousands of plots in Kansas, Mexico and India.

Drones can collect an unprecedented amount of new field and crop data, according to project director Jesse Poland, assistant professor of plant pathology and agronomy at K-State.

“Perhaps the greatest bottleneck currently in plant breeding and genetics is effectively generating precision measurements of plant characteristics in the field,” he says. “The goal of this project is to deliver in-season yield predictions by building models that combine genetic information from DNA sequencing and crop physiology that we will gather from UAV measurements on tens of thousands of breeding lines.”

By collecting millions of collected images, researchers should be able to use that information to improve their current wheat breeding efforts.

“Plant breeding is really a numbers game,” Poland says. “If we can use new technologies like remote sensing with these low-cost UAVs, then we provide the breeders with the tools to look through many more candidate varieties and increase the chances of finding ones that are really excellent and can become the next best varieties to release to farmers.”

The grant will fund this project for three years.