Researchers with Oregon State University are looking into how farmers could use unmanned aerial vehicles to better manage their crops. The University recently received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly UAVs over potato fields in the Hermiston area.
Each remotely piloted plane is equipped with special cameras that can detect different wavelengths of light as it's reflected from the crops below.
Infrared light has already proven effective in detecting malnourishment in plants. The OSU team hopes to build on that research by studying new wavelengths.
Phil Hamm is the Director of OSU's research center in Hermiston.
He says unlike traditional airplanes, these UAVs aren't required to maintain a minimum altitude.
"We'll be flying at 400 feet or less," said Hamm. "So we have the capability to fly at a much lower altitude, and get much better resolution on individual plants and actually, individual leaves on a plant."
USDA, Boeing Research and Technology and a Bend tech company called n-link are partners on the project. Hamm says the research could lead to more efficient use of water, fertilizer and pesticides.
This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.