A year-long field research effort has been launched to gather images and analytics from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, to detect varying levels of water stress in almond orchards. The data could help almond growers make more effective in-season water management decisions.
The joint endeavor includes AeroVironment, Inc., with experience in commercial and military unmanned aircraft systems, and plant specialists at California State University, Fresno (Fresno State).
AeroVironment’s Jon Self says, “We look forward to developing a reliable and effective means of correlating multispectral data with almond tree hydration data to provide growers with better insight so they can proceed with certainty.”
Almonds are California’s second largest agricultural commodity, behind dairy, with an estimated value of $5.33 billion (2015 figure). Almonds are planted on about 14 percent of California’s irrigated agricultural land, AeroVironment said in a news release quoting data from the Almond Board of California.
The UAV technology company says almond producers continue to examine advanced technologies to push the envelope on water use efficiency to serve as positive stewards of the limited resource.
AeroVironment will fly its Puma UAV and capture data and aerial images with a 24 megapixel photogrammetric camera and 6-channel multispectral sensor over Fresno State orchards.
The company’s cloud-based analytics platform, DSS, will process and analyze data to compare with ground measurements. The team will use linear and non-linear geospatial data algorithms for statistical correlation and predictability validated by ground-level hydration data.
The hydration levels of almond trees will be closely measured, along with environmental and crop conditions using soil and plant sensors.
In the end, the technology could help almond growers make better decisions on the precise amount of water needed to gain optimal yield.
The project starts this month with results expected in September 2017.