When producers scout their crops, they may walk or drive through their fields to identify problem areas, and they’re typically limited to evaluating plant health and performance in the visual spectrum. In other words, they must make management decisions based on what they see. If taking pictures, then most cameras also limit their perspective to the visual spectrum. At the Farm Research Center in Garden City, Mo., however, AgTech has used remote sensors equipped to assess crop quality in the near-infrared (NIR) spectrum to provide an alternative view.
NIR images measure reflected light. At high reflectivity levels, a plant is healthy, and at low reflectivity levels, a plant is unhealthy. In a guide sheet, the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service explains that chlorophyll content or plant health can be connected to reflectivity. If a leaf has high chlorophyll content, then an NIR image would indicate that the leaf has high reflectivity. On the other hand, if a plant has experienced dry conditions, then its leaves would have lower reflectivity.
The photo to the left is a sample NDVI image that illustrates NIR data. To capture the image, AgTech used remote sensing with an unmanned aerial vehicle and a converted GoPro camera with NIR capabilities. The image compares reflectivity in a soybean test plot that The Farm Research Center designed to evaluate the effect of in-furrow BigBioYield biological applications. Available from BigYieldTM, the BigBioYieldTM crop biological has multiple beneficial bacteria that help to protect plants from diseases and pests, encourage growth and make nutrients in the soil available for absorption.
Within the photo, note the darker areas that appear as bands in the plot. The darker areas had more reflectivity and, consequently, enhanced plant health. The image supports that in-furrow BigBioYieldTM applications can boost plant health in soybean crops.
In addition to NIR helping to evaluate plant response to test plot treatments, the NIR and remote sensing technologies also have applications that extend beyond research. Farm operators can use these tools to more efficiently pinpoint unhealthy areas of their fields and concentrate product applications in areas that most need them.