Above the green fields of Hertfordshire, UK, BBSRC-funded scientists have been busy for more than a year running pilot(less) studies to see what drones could bring to agricultural research.
An advanced eight-rotor model dubbed the octocopter (see ‘Flight-al statistics’), has been put through its paces by researchers led by Andrew Riche of Rothamsted Research, an institute devoted to plant, soil and agricultural science that receives strategic funding from UK bioscience funders BBSRC.
Rothamsted is the site of the longest running field experiments in the world, where farm systems and inputs such as fertiliser, pesticides and crop growth have been running for more than a hundred years. In the 21st century, they want to see if drone surveillance can take much of the drudgery and footwork out of these large-scale experiments that span over 200 hectares of picturesque English countryside. As a demonstrator technology, the researchers are embarking on a rigorous programme of regularly recording experiments over five hectares (the size of seven football pitches) to see exactly what this airborne marvel is capable of.
“This year we have focused on monitoring crop height through the season and also crop maturity, says Riche. “Different wheat lines mature at different rates, and we regularly monitor this on the ground – this year we hope to have done it from the air.”
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