Precision Agriculture Takes Flight at North Carolina State

Take a walk into the Suggs Laboratory for Precision Agriculture and Machine Systems and it’s hard not to be impressed, writes Rebecca Nagy on North Carolina State University’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering (BAE) website. Named after Charlie Suggs for his contributions to BAE, NC State, and the field as a whole, the lab embodies his work ethic and dedication to furthering knowledge.

The brightly lit space houses a sleek drone fitted with crop sensors in one corner and a tractor with a field computer and automatic steering being installed in another. Both will be used in various research, extension and academic projects, all with the aim of improving and increasing efficiency in agriculture. A newly mounted whiteboard takes up most of another wall. Current projects, collaborators and bullet points are scrawled across the board, spanning research areas from cotton, to Christmas trees, to corn and pigs.

“I tried to take a photo to show my parents, but couldn’t fit it all in just one photo,” comments Kyle Townsend, an undergraduate researcher in the lab.

group-photo
Jason Ward and his students joined by collaborators NC State Extension, Cotton Inc and Precision Hawk (BAE alum Bobby Vick). Photo courtesy the Advanced Ag Lab.

One such project underway involves placing sensors over corn crops to assess weather damage.

“Hurricane season is the same time as harvest season,” Jason Ward explains. “We wondered, could we assess how much of the field area is damaged and how badly its damaged.”

Ward joined BAE as an assistant professor in Precision Agriculture in 2017 and hit the ground running, bringing valuable experience spanning over 10 years in industry, government and academia.

In this project, unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, will be used to quantify crop damage. These findings will be compared to the condition of crops on the ground. Using this data, the precision agriculture team can compare specific measurement technologies to find the best set of tools to quantify the severity of damage and area of impact.

Read more at BAE.NCSU.edu.

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