Covercrop remote sensing imaging

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Covercrop effects on Sorgum Sudan Grass

The Need/Problem Addressed

Remote sensing has been successfully used in research at the landscape scale and for large scale production agriculture; however, cost and low resolution has made this technology impractical for smaller producers and for field or plot-scale research. Now, recent advances in digital imaging technology mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and balloons, and kites has made high resolution monitoring of agricultural production operations and research plots feasible and inexpensive (individual systems cost as low as $200). This technology has immediate application to agricultural practices that are data intensive or time sensitive, such as adaptive nutrient management. Additionally, these aerial low cost imaging platforms may reduce the labor, time, and equipment costs of biomass data collection, one of the primary factors limiting on-farm research. This tool aims to demonstrate the technology in the field, and refine the techniques for data acquisition and interpretation, including identification of crop plant and weed species spectral signatures, biomass, crop height, and percent cover , as well as identification of crop stress signatures.

UAVs balloons and Kites can be used to generate rapid and accurate crop plant performance datasets for on-farm management and field and plot-scale research. It will be necessary to calibrate and test the accuracy of remotely sensed data with on the ground methods such as spectrometer calibrated targets and manually gathered ground truthing observations that document percent cover, biomass, spectral signatures, soil conditions, species indentity and mixture as well as other observations. The calibration process will roughly parallel the on-the ground verification and calibration process of satellite based remote sensing technologies, but at a much higher resolution and using distributed volunteer efforts to build the libraries.

iFARM Public Lab research notes from the 2012-2014 events can be found here

iFarm Structure and tool development plan

The following structure is proposed to organize the many elements required to develop quantitative analysis from imagery. Additional tools and wikis will be linked through this menu to simplify this tool, but also to add more depth to the wiki structure.

Aerial Imagery
o kites (links to examples)
o balloons (links to examples)
o fixed wing conventional (links to examples)
o flying wing (links to examples)
o multirotor (links to examples)
o other (hybrid, blimp, powered kite etc.) (links to examples)

Support Community
o Public lab
o DIYDrones
o Flight Riot
o Ecosynth
o Conservation Drones
o Drone mapper
o Commercial providers

Ground truthing methods
o Ground based wireless network and data logging
• color calibration
• ground sensor networks
• Wifi based sensor networks (commotion and ubiquity hardware etc)
• Xbee based wireless networks
• Sensor technology – and approaches, costs etc. Traditional methods


CHDK, multispectral/NDVI, Lidar, Thermal Imaging, low cost lidar,

Post Processing

o Georeferencing
o Stitching
o color and texture analysis
o crop height calculations, leaf area index, percent cover, biomass volume
o Imaging and Neural network pattern recognition

Observation Kits concept
meaningful "kits" of hardware and software to observe particular indicators
Some areas that can be addressed with imaging

  • Crop type
    • Plant count
  • Invasive species identification and quantification
    • Canopy cover
    • Leaf area index
      + Soil type
  • Soil moisture
    • Growth stage
    • Plant Height
    • Nitrogen deficiencies
    • Plant health
    • Detasseling
    • Yield Monitoring
  • Biomass
    • Forest health
    • Disease detection
    • Land cover mapping
    • Carbon Mapping
  • Irrigated land mapping
    • Impervious surface mapping
    • Watershed planning

Types of imaging
+ High resolution, low distortion camera (RGB)
Ideal for:
+ Aerial mapping and imaging
+ Photogrammetry and 3D reconstruction
+ Plant counting
+ Surveying and land use applications
+ Short range, 270° scanning LASER rangefinder
+ Useful in 3D digital surface modeling, stockpile calculation, surface variation detection
+ Penetrates through vegetation: It can perform plant height measurements by collecting range information from the plant canopy and the ground below
Microbolometer thermal sensors are best utilized in:
+ Heat signature detection
+ Livestock detection
+ Water temperature detection and water source identification
Multispectral sensors are used widely in:
+ Plant health measurement
+ Water quality assessment
+ Vegetation index calculation
+ Plant counting

Publishing and data export

KLM export and web hosting for GIS data files and export to adaptive farm management software and reports

Other related Communities

The following organizations provide instructions and community support for open source aerial imaging
iFARM was coined by Chris Fastie
Examples of Images

Embed Sample image Galleries here

Google Earth also enables embedding gadgets to display KMZ tours of geolocated images and data

Organic Hairy Vetch plots aerial imagery imported into google earth

How it works

Public Laboratory's open source balloon hardware setup:

Full construction and operation instructions and bill of materials for a fixed wing aircraft based can be found here

Open Source Spectral analysis kit:

Construction/how to build

2013 Skywalker fixed wing Imaging platform layout and construction wiki is here
Near Infrared Camera setups

Canon Powershots are often used because of the Canon Hack Developer Kit

Flight riot host instructional set up videos and lots of great open source resources for processing software

The following is for setting up a remote trigger

Additional information on knitting images can be found here

A poster about interpretation of NDVI and visual spectrum analysis can be found here


DIY Infrared Photography Kit
Balloon Kit
DIY Drone fixed wing
DIY Drone rotary wing