Camera Detects Crop Temperatures, Enables Precision Irrigation

Irrigation system in soybean field. ( Sara Schafer )

Heat stress can decimate yields, and researchers at the University of Missouri and USDA Agricultural Research Service have found a way to help farmers identify hot plants. They’ve combined a regular digital camera with a miniature infrared camera that provides temperature data and images.

While farmers can use infrared sensors, which are less expensive that a high-powered infrared camera, they don’t provide images. The system created by Missouri researchers provides considerable data to farmers that can be used to inform irrigation decisions.

“Using an infrared camera to monitor crop temperature can be tricky because it is difficult to differentiate between the plants and background elements like soil or shade,” said Ken Sudduth, USDA agricultural engineer and adjunct professor of bioengineering at MU’s College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. “By augmenting a miniature infrared camera with a digital camera, we created a system that can examine crop temperatures with great detail and accuracy.”

The new cameras produce two images from the same area, a visually detailed photograph and an infrared image. They’ve named it the Multi-band System for Imaging of a Crop Canopy and it can help farmers identify problem areas from images, overlaid with infrared images.

Because the system uses an algorithm that filters soil, shade and anything that isn’t the plant out of the images. This helps farmers determine what they need to irrigate their crops according to the specific needs of the individual plants, allowing them to maximize yields and optimize water use.

However, researchers say the system needs more fine-tuning before it can be sold to farmers.