UF Researchers Study Drone Use in Citrus

Len WilcoxAll In For Citrus Podcast, California Corner, Technology

In the latest All In For Citrus podcast, Yiannis Ampatzidis, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) associate professor of agricultural and biological engineering, discusses new studies in drone technology applications for agriculture. Citrus growers can currently use drones to find out how many trees live in their groves, and they soon may be able to detect the health status of their trees.

Scientists have created software that searches images from drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), to accurately detect and count citrus trees and spaces where trees have been removed in groves. Using this technology save growers time, money and labor costs. According to Ampatzidis, the technology could also be used to evaluate citrus varieties and rootstocks.

Eventually, UF/IFAS researchers hope to use the UAV images to detect citrus tree traits that would lead to quicker diagnoses of heat stress and diseases, including the deadly citrus greening disease.

Ampatzidis and his colleagues attached an imaging mechanism to a UAV, and it accurately detected citrus trees and gaps between trees in a grove in Hendry County, Florida. The missing trees were damaged by citrus greening or other diseases, and the growers needed to know exactly how many were missing for replanting and insurance purposes.

“This is the very first step toward developing an individual tree analysis,” said Ampatzidis. “Growers need to know the number and location of tree gaps in order to replant new trees. They need to know problematic areas and weak trees.”

The drone technology should also help citrus growers deal with new agriculture insurance policies that require detailed information about each grove, he said.

The new UF/IFAS research is published in the journal Remote Sensing.

This interview was featured in the current episode of the All In For Citrus podcast, a joint project of UF/IFAS and AgNet Media. Listen to the full podcast here.