A new research project funded by USDA and the Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska is using drones in an effort to improve crop irrigation efficiency. Drones equipped with multispectral and thermal infrared imaging sensors will be sent up at the Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center near Mead, Neb., from planting to harvest to collect data. A new concept will also be tested in which a drone is used to communicate with in-field soil water content and canopy temperature sensors.
“Essentially, we will be able to economically collect near real-time crop and soil water content data—not currently available—and use these data to create water management prescriptions for newer variable-rate center pivot irrigation systems,” says Wayne Woldt, a researcher working on the project and a professor in the School of Natural Resources and Department of Biological Systems Engineering. With this sophisticated level of detail, farmers can respond quickly and more accurately to their soil conditions to increase crop production and maximize their water use efficiency.