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ARS Home » Northeast Area » University Park, Pennsylvania » Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research » Research » Research Project #443881

Research Project: Using Unoccupied Aerial Vehicles for Application of Fertilizers to Cranberry Bogs in Massachusetts

Location: Pasture Systems & Watershed Management Research

Project Number: 8070-13000-015-026-R
Project Type: Reimbursable Cooperative Agreement

Start Date: Apr 1, 2023
End Date: Sep 30, 2023

UAVs (unoccupied aerial vehicles) are an untested technology for fertilizer application in cranberry production, yet growers are eager for alternatives to current practices that generally lack precision. Use of UAVs represents an opportunity to conserve resources, enhance water quality, and increase agricultural productivity in Massachusetts. ARS scientists and colleagues will carry out a proof-of-concept study to demonstrate the use of UAVs for application of fertilizers to cranberry bogs. Project objectives including the following: Objective 1: UAV altitude, flight speed, and spreader settings will be varied to optimize uniformity and efficiency of fertilizer application. The distribution of fertilizer will be measured with an array of collectors installed inside and outside of the target area. Spatial distributions of N, P, and K fertilizer will be measured. Objective 2: The efficiency and uniformity of fertilizers applied by helicopters, ground rigs, backpack-type broadcast spreaders, and UAVs will be evaluated. The treatments (N = 4) will be replicated three times on 3-5 ha commercial cranberry bogs. Spatial distributions of N, P, and K will be measured.

The proposed study will demonstrate the use of UAV-based fertilizer application in cranberry production. This information will be highly relevant to farmers since it has the potential to reduce production costs by applying fertilizer in a more cost-effective manner. Additional benefits, particularly for growers who predominantly apply fertilizer via a backpack spreader, include a less labor-intensive approach to fertilizer application, and a reduction in crop damage from foot traffic. ARS scientists hypothesize that applying granular fertilizer via UAV will be more timing consuming than backpack-spreader or helicopter applications, but will result in greater uniformity while limiting foot traffic on the crop. The study will be conducted as a field experiment. The main treatments will include applications by backpack spreader, helicopter, ground rig, and UAV. The key data to be collected will be the mass of granular fertilizer applied per area. Granules will be collected in circular receptacles approximately 1-m diameter at multiple locations throughout study beds.