University of Maryland drone team working to change the face of IPM
FINKSBURG, Md. — Kirk Floyd, founder and chief pilot of kdrone services, is on a mission to revolutionize Integrated Pest Management for small farmers.
With the help of Stanton Gill, principal Extension agent in entomology at the University of Maryland and a 3 year grant from the USDA, the two are on track to add an ‘E’ for ‘Electronic’ to IPM’s toolkit.
Floyd, who has been involved in various aspects of horticulture for over 30 years, has also been a certified pesticide operator for almost all of that time.
About 10 years ago, “when I started doing arboriculture, I met Stanton, who was friends with my boss,” said Floyd, adding Gill “was always interested in getting out in the field,” Floyd continued, “and that’s how I ended up working with him.”
Floyd, who had begun exploring how the field mapping capabilities of drones could apply in agriculture, discovered that Gill was also working with drones’ IPM applications — albeit with someone else.
“When they fell out from the program, I was able to step in and help them out,” Floyd said.
“At the time I got in, I just had the analytic drone. Then, when I mentioned I was interested in the spray drone, they said they wanted to support that,” Floyd continued.
He pointed out that sprayer drones have the ability to efficiently tackle fields where other aviation equipment, even helicopters, can’t get in.
“A lot of smaller farm fields get close, as close to the edge as they can. Because of that, you can’t even get a helo in there because the rows are too close to the tree line.”
Floyd said he has quickly adapted to using the sprayer drone in regular crop fields — especially in the smaller fields.
“A lateral drone, though, works great in those because it sidesteps from row end to row end,” Floyd said.
The plant nursery fields, however, have presented different challenges. “It’s a virtual ballet in the fields, but it’s harder to get on point in the tree nursery rows.”
“That’s part of the reason for our trials,” he continued, referencing the drone trials that the team from University of Maryland’s Department of Plant Science & Landscape Architecture. The other part is “trying to determine with water what we’re getting on coverage, including looking at different canopy sizes,” added Gill.
Toward that end, the team carded, with moisture sensitive paper, select trees in each row sprayed. Karen Rane, plant pathologist and director of the University of Maryland’s Plant Diagnostic Laboratory, explained that the collected cards would be taken back and analyzed not only for the extent of the drone’s spraying coverage over the course of a row, but also the effectiveness of that coverage if this were a pesticide rather than water.
The carding process also helps the team figure out “the different factors essential to setting up an effective spraying program.
These include the volume sprayed, the speed that the drone moves along the row, and how far the spray penetrates the row’s vegetation,” she said.
Floyd added it can be tricky figuring out a successful spray’s initial parameters, including, as was the case last week, compensating for the light winds blowing during some of the trials that morning.
And yet, both Floyd and Gill felt each trial was helping the UM team get that much closer to their goal of providing smaller farmers with yet another tool in precision agriculture.
“As a tool, the drone is always going to do the right thing, because it’s a robot,” said Floyd. “For the farmers who are making the changes and adapting to their use, the science behind them can change their farms.”
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925