Bushland, TX - A local researcher is using drone technology to help wheat farmers in the Panhandle save money.
Texas A&M AgriLife plant pathologist Charlie Rush is using a helicopter drone to monitor virus-infected wheat crops. In just five minutes, the drone can take images of a ten-acre field. Rush is using the drone's images to track the disease progression of a mite virus that infects wheat crops across the Panhandle each year.
"So where the mite virus starts on the edge of the field, those plants will get sick really early," said Rush. "And then as mites move across the field and plants get infected later and later in the season, you have a gradient of disease severity. Farmers don't really know how to deal with that and they don't know if they should put additional irrigation on, or fertilizers or pest control strategies because they don't really know how the disease is going to progress."
His goal is to use the information he gathers to save farmers money. "Being able to ultimately tell the farmer if you have this level of disease severity on this part of your field at this time of the year, then it's either going to pay off for you to go ahead and put some additional inputs on there, or it's so sick at this point in time, there's no hope for making any profit on your grain harvest," said Rush.
Capturing images from the drone is cheaper than using satellite imagery and the pictures have higher-quality resolution. Though his focus is tracking viruses, Rush said there is a lot more potential for drone use in agriculture.
"They're going to be able to use it for fertilizer management, there's interest in people out here actually looking at the possibility of using different types of imaging for water stress. Should we put on our irrigation right now or do we need to wait for a few days? That type of thing. And you can use it for other types of insect pests that might cause problems in your crop. So it has a potentially tremendous application."
Rush will be monitoring virus-infected fields in the Panhandle for the next four years.
Madison Alewel - NewsChannel 10