Daniel Rogers, program technician for soybean breeding and genetics at the University of Arkansas, will soon start using a drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle, to monitor soybean crops at seven UA farms across Arkansas. The drone is expected to save time for him and his colleagues who manually monitor crops on the farms.
The drone can be programmed to autonomously fly over a field and take a series of pictures and infrared images that can be stitched together to form a complete picture or infrared image of the field. Rogers will use a DJI Phantom 4 Pro drone to study hundreds of acres of soybean crops, including at farms in Fayetteville, Kibler, Marianna and Stuttgart.
Rogers, who graduated in 2010 from Arkansas Tech University with a bachelor’s degree in fish and wildlife science, started work at the UA in 2013 when he moved to the area from Russellville. Some of the research the drone will allow him to complete includes chloride screening and drought and flood research. This work is expected to be completed over the summer. He will also use the drone to study mature soybeans at the end of the season in late September and October.
“We’re working on a collaboration with Purdue [University] right now on actually being able to analyze maturity dates of different soybean varieties based on drone data,” Rogers said.
This year, he doesn’t expect the drone to save him a lot of time because he plans to manually examine crops along with using the drone to capture the pictures and infrared images. How the information the drone gathers can be used will determine how much time it will save Rogers and other workers.
“As far as field time goes, we can get a lot of data really quick. I mean, in 10% of the time it takes to actually walk the field or less,” Rogers said. “But then to analyze that data and to run in through the software that you need to, and to figure out what you need to read from that data, it’s a lot more computer screen time.”
But if the drone replaced the work required to walk the field and gather maturity data, it could save hundreds of hours of work. For example, a drone would need about 40 minutes to scan a 9-acre field four times, compared to the nearly 200 man-hours required to walk the field and take notes.
Rogers became a certified drone pilot in February, is one of three licensed drone pilots in the UA’s soybean program and is one of five people working on the project to use drones to study soybean crops. The data UA workers gather on the farms is public information, and the seeds from the mature soybean plants that meet specifications, such as drought resistant or produce a high yield, are tested for between six to 10 years before they are sold to farmers through the UA’s Foundation Seed Program.