Satellite photos to shed light on crop damage

Jo FulwoodCountryman

Aerial and satellite imaging could become a major tool in frost-affected crop management, possibly allowing farmers to accurately assess damage soon after frost events.

Investigators for a Grains Research and Development Corporation-funded study into the use of this technology hope to understand how to use light patterns from satellite photos to identify frost-affected plants.

If successful, farmers could use this technology after a frost to make decisions on whether or not to cut the crop for hay.

The study, to be run by University of WA plant biology lecturer Ken Flower, will use historical images to compare paddocks before and after a frost event.

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Dr Flower said using light spectrums to determine damage to chlorophyll was not a new concept in agriculture, but applying it to frost management was something he had not seen before.

"When chlorophyll is damaged you might get less absolution of certain wavelengths and, as a result, we can look at the spectral patterns and determine whether that crop has been affected or not," he said.

"We believe the crop that has been frosted will have a different spectral pattern."

Dr Flower said this type of technology was already used in irrigation farms, where farmers and researchers use infrared guns to look at plant temperature.

"If the crop is heating up, it means there is not enough water, and this can be sensed by the spectra given off," he said.

Dr Flower said the same technology was used in the weed seeker systems where remote sensing was used to measure plant colouring.

Dr Flower said the study would include UWA researchers Bryan Boruff and Christian Nansen, and he would contact farmers who had accurate records of frost events to participate in the trial.

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