Drones for agriculture: A&M obtains first state permit to conduct research

an unmanned aircraft flies over an open field

Image: senseFly, S.A.

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi and Texas A&M AgriLife Research have received the state’s first permit to use drones to conduct agricultural research at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Corpus Christi.

Research will begin soon in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles — UAVs, sometimes called drones — that are expected to help growers improve crop quality and yields while reducing production costs, savings that could be passed on to consumers.

The first test flight of the UAV, a fixed-wing lightweight platform called a Sensefly eBee, was scheduled to take place during February, and a demonstration for news media should occur in the next few months.

“This technology has huge potential,” said Michael Starek, assistant professor of geospatial surveying engineering at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “Such systems can be equipped with specialized cameras to precisely map where crops are stressed, assess moisture conditions, image 3-D plant structure, detect pest infiltration, and potentially determine early on where crops are diseased. Compared to traditional aircraft or satellites, UAVs provide the capability to scout crops at a fraction of the cost and at spatial and temporal scales previously unattainable.”

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