AgriLife researchers use drones ro monitor crops, animal health

Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo Drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras have been buzzing over a research feedlot near Amarillo, as researchers develop test methods to identify feverish animals before they show syptoms of illness.

kenny.wiley@theeagle.com

Texas A&M University System researchers throughout the state are working with drones, automated cameras and thermal imaging as part of their efforts to lower the usage of antibiotics in livestock and provide consumers with a healthy meat supply.

Brent Auvermann, director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Amarillo, said the use of automated technology such as drones is a continuation of work in precision farming, a type of technology-assisted farming.

Auvermann said that the technology, known as thermography, works in a way that's similar to technology used by pediatricians to ascertain the temperature of a child.

"If that temperature is above a certain threshold, the pediatrician is going to suspect that the child has some sort of infection," Auvermann said. "We're looking for the same kind of thing in animals, and truthfully, in crops as well.

"Veterinarians already use thermal imaging in their clinical practices, for example, to detect lameness in horses. If the hoof has been damaged, thermography can be used to locate the damage, because the body is naturally trying to send healing biochemicals to that area through the bloodstream."

Auvermann said that drones have been used in the past to monitor crops to assist with water irrigation, fertilizers and pesticides.

"We are trying to match up what the crops or animals need with what they actually receive," he said.

Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp praised the ongoing research in a statement, following a late February tour of an A&M research site in Bushland, which is just west of Amarillo.

"Millennials are getting blamed all the time for destroying industries, but in this case, they are creating one," Sharp said. "Demand for antibiotic-free meat and ingenuity from Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists is leading to some very exciting technology and a new segment of precision agriculture."

According to Auvermann, drones equipped with thermal-imaging cameras have helped researchers develop test methods to identify feverish animals before they show symptoms of illness, including when they eat less than other animals.

He said that AgriLife Extension centers throughout the state are involved in precision agriculture.

"Precision agriculture is much bigger than the drone program," Auvermann said. "Drones are just one tool we're using. We're using artificial intelligence, digital video which may or may not be mounted on drones, and transfer data through artificial intelligence to monitor behavior over time."

Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo

Engineers from Texas A&M AgriLife Research believe that producers will be able to detect sick animals earlier and target their use of antibiotics more precisely than is possible with current technology.

Texas A&M AgriLife Research photo

Drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras have been buzzing over a research feedlot near Amarillo, as researchers develop test methods to identify feverish animals before they show symptoms of illness, such as eating less feed or infecting other animals.

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