URBANA, Ill. – When plant breeders develop new crop varieties, they grow up a lot of plants and they all need to be checked. Repeatedly.
“Farmers might have a 100-acre field planted with one soybean variety, whereas breeders may have 10,000 potential varieties planted on one 10-acre field. The farmer can fairly quickly determine whether the single variety in a field is ready to be harvested. However, breeders have to walk through research fields several times in the fall to determine the date when each potential variety matures,” explains University of Illinois soybean breeder Brian Diers.
“We have to check every three days,” masters student Nathan Schmitz adds. “It takes a good amount of time during a busy part of the year. Sometimes it’s really hot, sometimes really muddy.”
To make things easier, an interdisciplinary team including breeders, computer scientists, engineers, and geographic information specialists turned to unmanned aerial vehicles – commonly known as UAVs or drones.