Researchers in Idaho say drones can help to detect potato diseases

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POCATELLO, Idaho — Researchers in Idaho have found a way to use drones to detect diseased potato plants.

Led by Idaho State University assistant geosciences professor Donna Delparte, researchers mounted high-tech cameras on drones and flew them 60 meters above potato fields, The Capital Press reported. They were able to detect individual diseased and stressed plants early and accurately.

Delparte’s project started in 2014 and used drones to gather images of about a half-dozen potato and sugar beet fields in 2015.

It was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and the Idaho Department of Commerce’s Global Entrepreneurial Mission. J.R. Simplot Co. also helped Delparte with soil analysis, crop expertise and grower recruitment.

“There’s so much new technology coming into the marketplace,” said Simplot technology director Allan Fetters.

“This is a good opportunity to work with ISU and understand how we might use this technology to bring value to farmers of Idaho.”

The researchers are now trying to create algorithms that will let them identify the exact diseases using a method developed by Louise-Marie Dandurand, a University of Idaho plant physiologist. Durand was able to use the way a plant reflects radiation to differentiate between ailments like nematode feeding or potato virus Y infection.

“Happy plants have a consistent pattern, or signature,” explained Mike Griffel, a Simplot agronomy manager working with Delparte.