Agrophysical Institute - about Geoscan drones at the fields

Agrophysical Institute - about Geoscan drones at the fields
Agrophysical Institute - about Geoscan drones at the fields

As part of a series of articles about the experience of the use of Geoscan technologies we talked with leading research scientist of Agrophysical Institute - Petrushin Alexey Fedorovich - on the experience of the use of Geoscan 401 quadcopter and our software for the purposes of precision farming, reclamation systems state assessment, and about how UAV technologies may help substitute the rarest agricultural specialists and how to receive bakery grain in boreal conditions of Russian North-West.

- Tell us, please, about the Agrophysical Institute and its current activity?

- Agrophysical Institute was founded in 1932 by an outstanding academician A.F.Ioffe as an Institute that operates on the intersection of the agricultural, physical, mathematical and other technical sciences. The main thrust was to increase the yield and ensure the country's food security, by using the knowledge from various different fields of science.

Right now, we work in the laboratory of precision farming and carry out the refinement of this technology in boreal conditions of Russian North-West.

- What led you to the use of Geoscan technologies?

- Precision farming technologies were first implemented in Russia in the fields of our pilot station in 2003. For these purposes, we purchased the complex of foreign equipment in order to produce a differentiated fertilization at the fields. And then we had a hypothesis that the use of unmanned technologies will allow us to approach more accurately to the precision farming works. In 2003, our specialists created a radio-controlled petrol-fueled airplane, which had an installed camera, and we used it to monitor the condition of crops. A radio-controlled airplane did not allow us to obtain the data with the required accuracy, so we purchased Geoscan 401 in 2015 in order to obtain a better and more accurate overall picture of the state of crops.

- Tell us about your workflow: how do you obtain your data, how do you process it and which analysis instruments do you use?

- The implementation of precision farming technologies begins with the accurate determination of the point when it’s needed to add fertilizers into the plants’ soil. We arrive in the experimental fields, then plan the flight above the surveyed area in the Geoscan Planner software, with determining of the area and resolution parameters. Geoscan 401 performs the survey, then the orthomosaic is processed in the PhotoScan software, with determining of the area and resolution parameters. Geoscan 401 performs the survey, then the orthomosaic is processed in the PhotoScan software, and then we use the Quantum GIS for building maps of the technical tasks for the further differentiated fertilization, and then the agricultural machinery goes out and makes fertilization. We use Sputnik Agro as well - it is a very convenient tool for working with the results of aerial photography: it allows us to analyze the terrain, study the water streams and detect the waterlogged areas, and it is also very convenient for mapping the distribution of the vegetative index (NDVI).

- How do Geoscan technologies find their application in precision farming?

- The gist of precise farming is to give the plant as much food as it needs. Because if a plant is undernourished, we, accordingly, will get a reduced harvest, and if we overfeed it, then, accordingly, there will be a very strong damping-off.

Using the aerial photographing from unmanned aerial vehicles, we can carry out a two-band survey – in visible and infrared ranges – so we can build the NDVI distribution index maps, which illustrate the necessity of the plants’ need for nutrition. When we have determined these homogeneous zones on the field, it is necessary to understand - how much food do we have to add in such zones? This can be done by selecting the plant in this zone, taking it to the laboratory, determining how much nitrogen there is and understanding how much we need to add. But this technology is quite expensive in terms of time and money.

For the years of research, we came to the fact that it is necessary to lay test areas with a different nutrition degree at the edge of the field. In spring we make a main nutrition and then we can calibrate the other field areas by this zone. By using the unmanned technologies, we can fly and immediately understand, in which zone nutrition is needed the most and how much fertilizers do we need to add.

- How can Geoscan drones help you save time and resources?

- Due to the fact that Geoscan technologies are fully automated, the process of obtaining aerial survey data and digital relief models is much simplified, everything is much easier and faster. This is in the first place. Secondly, with the plane we worked with 15 years ago, we could not get such accuracy, which we can get with Geoscan drones.

Again, over the years of research, in average, we get that we save fertilizers by up to 30% and raise the yield by up to 15%, but, moreover, also the grain quality increases: we just need two different fertilizations to get the granary (in boreal conditions) of the bakery quality.

- Tell us about your other projects with the use of Geoscan technologies?

- The range of the problems, that can be solved with the help of drones is very wide: it is an assessment of the state of plants, the identification of the crops infection, assessment of the plants’ need in nutrition, the state of relief and the state of reclamation systems assessment.

Historically, after the Perestroika, it turned out so that many plans of reclamation systems were lost. And now landowners, while acquiring land ownership, do not get these projects as well. Of course, there are reclamation specialists in Russia - but theirs number is few and far between - that can enter the field and clearly recognize where the drains are - but there are very few such specialists. However, unmanned technologies allow us to restore the field reclamation system projects for the further reconstruction.

In general, according to the technology of the deep (underground) drainage, excavation of the soil is carried out, drains are laid, and then everything is buried back. But the scars on the ground - they can be seen even after 30 years because the structure of the soil itself is slightly changed. At the place where the drains lie the moisture leaves the most - and, accordingly, by the contrast of the image of the field, we can clearly determine where this drain lies, and we can restore the whole system structure with a georeference, and then go in the field and find and clearly recognize the drain mouths by the reconstructed plan.

Here we conducted a study on the application of Geoscan technologies for monitoring the state of reclamation systems and the development of technical tasks for the reconstruction of such systems. So, we compared a project for the reconstruction of the field reclamation system, which was prepared by a licensed organization, and the data that we received from Geoscan 401 quadcopter. The difference in measurement is of about 10-15%. So, by using Geoscan technologies for the monitoring and creation of digital terrain models, we can substantially save even on such things.

A full version of the interview is available at our YouTube: