USDA grant allows SEMU to buy drone and high-tech camera

drone at Southeast Missouri State University

Andy Chronister, agriculture technology coordinator in Southeast’s Economic and Business Engagement Center, operates the new hyperspectral camera and DJI Matrice 600 drone at Southeast’s David M. Barton Agriculture Research Center in Cape Girardeau — photo courtesy SEMU

Southeast Missouri State University’s Department of Agriculture and the Economic and Business Engagement Center have been awarded a $51,000 Rural Business Development Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish an agricultural advanced digital technology initiative.

The initiative is part of an effort to incorporate technological advancements into agriculture operations within the region. Southeast has used the funding to purchase a hyperspectral camera and DJI Matrice 600 drone.

The new hyperspectral camera allows for state-of-the-art remote sensing in agriculture, including isolating crop injury, soil nutrition status, disease and insect damage, and more, said Dr. Mike Aide, Southeast professor of agriculture.

“The drone-hyperspectral system is a substantial advancement for crop farmers to initiate real-time crop management decisions,” he said. “Hyperspectral imaging captures and processes images with several hundred wavelengths, such as light from plants, soil or residue in a given field. The advantage of hyperspectral remote sensing is the ability to collect indistinct spectral differences that aren’t visible to the human eye and provide more accurate field evaluations for crop health in the form of a map.”

Combined with other technologies, such as images from an infrared camera, the university can make precision agriculture decisions based on detection of crop stress, nutrient deficiencies, noxious weed detection, yield prediction and seed viability. Currently, Southeast produces corn and soybeans at the David M. Barton Agriculture Research Center in Cape Girardeau, cotton at Southeast’s Sikeston campus and rice at the Missouri Rice Research Farm in Glennonville, Missouri. Additionally, each year the Department of Agriculture varies its crops depending on research and marketplace demands

This technology will be helpful right now because the region has received a lot of rain and is experiencing flooding across a large portion of Missouri’s farmland, Aide said.

“A lot of farmers are considering replanting or scrapping their fields,” he said. “With drones, we can canvas a large area without having to physically walk the fields, and the cameras can provide a true vision of what is going on inside the crops that we can’t see.”

As the technology becomes more available and affordable, farmers can assess and make crop health decisions, and there are more opportunities for agronomic research.

“Aerial hyperspectral imagery is currently being used in research regarding wetland nutrient enrichment, wetland and agricultural monitoring, water quality assessment, oil spill detection and monitoring, and classifying plant types in wetlands and forests,” said Andy Chronister, agriculture technology coordinator in Southeast’s Economic and Business Engagement Center. “This is just scratching the surface of the kind of research topics that involve aerial hyperspectral imagery.”

As part of the grant, the university’s new drone and hyperspectral camera can support research efforts with the University of Missouri Fisher Delta Research Center, the Missouri Soybean and Merchandising Council, and the Missouri Rice Research and Merchandising Council.

The university also will support local farmers and the regional agriculture community to incorporate the new technologies and to provide expertise and experience.

In addition, Southeast will integrate the new technology into curriculum for students, Aide said.

The data collected from the hyperspectral camera can help students studying weed management, soil fertility, plant nutrition, pest management, crop production and water management.

“We can teach students to use the equipment and properly read the data for their own projects, assignments and research,” he said. “We’re preparing the next generation of agriculture leaders to effectively use new technology to have a positive effect on the whole industry. Hands-on experiences with this technology and a working knowledge of how to interpret and use the data can lead them to amazing career opportunities.”

Southeast Missouri State University contributed this article.