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ARS Home » Plains Area » College Station, Texas » Southern Plains Agricultural Research Center » Aerial Application Technology Research » Research » Research Project #435709

Research Project: Aerial Application Technology for Sustainable Crop Production

Location: Aerial Application Technology Research

2020 Annual Report

Objective 1: Optimize aerial spray technologies for on-target deposition and drift mitigation. Subobjective 1A: Characterize effects of spray systems and formulations on droplet size. Subobjective 1B: Enhance spray swath deposition and uniformity. Subobjective 1C: Develop criteria for efficient operation and selection of aerial spray systems. Objective 2: Develop geospatial data processing and analyses methods for crop condition assessment and pest management. Subobjective 2A: Develop variable rate application methods for plant growth regulators (PGRs) and defoliants based on physiological conditions. Subobjective 2B: Develop precision aerial application methods for fertilization and disease control based on biotic conditions.

Utilizing engineering and biological principles, laboratory and field studies will be conducted to evaluate the effects of various aerial application parameters, such as spray formulation and droplet size, on aerial application efficiency and biological efficacy. Efforts will focus on the integration of laboratory spray droplet measurements and remote sensing systems to maximize the efficacy of crop production materials while minimizing any off-target impact from these sprays. Plant health and species differences will be determined from remotely sensed data and used to make spray application decisions related to spatial locations and dosages. This project will develop and implement new and improved aerial application technologies for safe, efficient, and sustainable crop production and protection.

Progress Report
This is a bridging project which began October 23, 2018, replacing the expiring project 3091-22000-032-00D, “Aerial Application Technology for Sustainable Crop Production.” This project expired April 13, 2020, and was replaced by project 3091-22000-037-00D, “Improved Aerial Application Technologies for Precise and Effective Delivery of Crop Production Products”, which is continuing and expanding upon that work. Work completed during fiscal year 2020 under this project resulted in significant progress towards improving aerial application of crop production and protection materials in an environmentally safe and effective manner. New methods were developed that provide aerial applicators with quantitative measurements of spray material deposition patterns across the spray swath corresponding to a given application scenario, which allows for proper adjustment and placement of nozzles to maximize uniformity with manned and unmanned aerial spray systems (Objective 1). Further, an improved measurement method was developed to quantify variation in the volume of applied material and the spray droplet size deposited across multiple spray swaths and wind conditions to provide applicators operational guidance for improving uniformity from manned and unmanned aerial applications (Objective 1). Improved image acquisition systems for manned and unmanned aerial systems and analysis methods were developed to acquire remotely sensed data to generate high quality maps to identify crop pest issues and monitor crop health conditions (Objective 2). Improved methodologies were developed for using readily available and low-cost satellite imagery to guide effective, site-specific management of cotton root-rot and boll-weevil eradication through timely identification of volunteer, early growth cotton (Objective 2). Work under the successor project will continue to support and provide data to collaborative partners, including the National Cotton Council, Environmental Protection Agency, the National Agricultural Aviation Association, and agrochemical and application technology manufacturers, as well as provide content for numerous applicator educational and training resources.

1. Improved aerial spray swath analysis method. The proper selection, placement, and operation of spray nozzles across the boom is critical to maximizing the uniformity of deposition across the swath and maintaining optimum spacing between flight lines in the field to optimize efficiency of aerial application systems. Additionally, ensuring that spray deposition rate and droplet size across the area of application meet label requirements is critical to ensuring efficacy and minimizing off-target damage. ARS researchers at College Station, Texas, developed improved measurement methods and new analytical techniques to provide quantitative measures of spray rate and droplet size corresponding to changes in effective swath width and wind direction. Prior to this work, only a limited understanding of the impacts of cross-winds on deposition patterns from aerial spray systems was available. These methods are being used by professional, manned aerial applicators, as well as researchers studying unmanned aerial applications to assess and optimize application system configurations for improved operational efficiency while maintaining efficacy and mitigating non-target impacts.

2. Satellite imagery for discriminating co-existing crop disease and pests for precision agriculture. Successful monitoring and management of crop health and pests to guide efficient production and protection inputs requires high quality and timely remotely sensed data. ARS researchers at College Station, Texas, developed new methods that use Landsat-8 satellite imagery to detect the presence of, and damage from, powdery mildew and aphids in winter wheat to guide site-specific pest management. Integrating plant growth and other location specific environmental patterns into the analysis algorithms enhanced early detection and monitoring, and allowed for the development of prescription maps to guide management efforts. The methodology and results from this work are immediately applicable across a wide variety of crop pest types, allowing for improved efficiency through precision application of crop production and protection products. Adoption of the new methodology will result in reduced pesticide input while maintaining or improving overall pest management efficacy.

Review Publications
Fritz, B.K., Gill, M., Bretthauer, S. 2019. Examining aerial application swath pattern evaluations under in-wind and cross-wind conditions. Journal of ASTM International.
Viera, B., Butts, T., Rodrigues, A., Schleier, J., Fritz, B.K., Kruger, G. 2020. Particle drift potential of glyphosate plus 2,4 D choline pre-mixture formulation in a low-speed wind tunnel. Weed Technology.
Martin, D.E., Woldt, W., Latheef, M.A., Kruger, G. 2019. Effect of application height and ground speed on spray pattern and droplet spectra from remotely piloted aerial application systems. Drones. 3:83.
Ma, H., Huang, W., Jing, Y., Yang, C., Han, L., Dong, Y., Ye, H., Shi, Y., Zheng, Q., Liu, L., Ruan, C. 2019. Integrating growth and environmental parameters to discriminate powdery mildew and aphid of winter wheat using bi-temporal Landsat-8 imagery. Remote Sensing. 11:846.