South Dakota State researchers using drones to aid precision agriculture

Updated: Sep. 15, 2022 at 8:40 PM CDT
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VOLGA, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Precision agriculture has made leaps and bounds over the years, thanks to new technology. But a research project at South Dakota State University is looking to take that technology, and put it right into farmers and producers’ hands.

Maitiniyazi Maimaitijiang, a Geography and Geospatial Sciences Assistant Professor at SDSU, has been studying remote sensors and using drones as a hobby for years. But recently, he and Shahid Khan, a doctoral student, have been piecing those two interests together.

“I’ve been working on remote-sensing applications for vegetation, crop monitoring, different applications for many years.” Maimaitijiang said.

“The two researchers have been looking at what drones could bring to precisions agriculture, as the costs of the drones themselves and the equipment become cheaper all the time,” Maimaitijiang said. “It’s really a better sensor, or better platform. It can provide more accurate and more detailed, and more useful information for farmers in precision agriculture or for plant breeders.”

Maimaitijiang said the use of drones can give farmers and producers a closer, more in-depth look at how their fields and crops are doing. Although satellites have been used for decades for precision agriculture, Khan said flying lower will always give farmers and producers a better look on their own time.

“The satellite is something that you cannot order around. You cannot tell the satellite to come at a specific time or a specific location. It just roams around data on it’s own time.” Khan said.

The data they get by flying over fields allows them to look at what areas might be disease prone, nutrient deficient, or struggling from water stress. The arsenal of tools at their disposal allows them almost surgical-like looks at how every plant is doing. That information can go a long way in helping farmers and producers with crop yield, and saving costs.

“When a patient sees a doctor, the doctor has different types of equipment. I would say it’s like a higher level of equipment to see more details,” Maimaitijiang said. “So we try to use cutting-edge advanced sensors, and also leveraging artificial intelligence, to build some early detection, early focusing, and early warning.”

Both researchers said that while there are some challenges and problems to overcome, they firmly believe that drone technology has a future in agriculture. Soon enough, there could be drones all across fields in South Dakota.