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More Crop per Drop Takes to The Skies

Posted on 03 November 2016.

Collaboration between the University of Southampton’s Biological and Engineering scientists saw some exciting progress for the More Crop per Drop research project in Portugal this summer.

More Crop per Drop is a project funded by Sainsbury’s Supermarkets, but working alongside a commercial salad and fresh herb producer, Vitacress Ltd. The project aims to reduce the water used in fresh herb production by implementing deficit irrigation practices, which involves applying a little less than optimum irrigation to the crop. This practice has been shown to produce a longer-lasting, more robust crop which smells, tastes and packages better than typically over-irrigated crops.

In order to safely apply this practice without losing the crop to water deficit, remote sensing methods may be employed to monitor crop stress rapidly and without having to handle the crop itself. Thermal imaging is such a technique which is rapidly gaining popularity in the agricultural sector and may be deployed in the field via the use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).

The More Crop per Drop collaboration this summer dispatched a UAV designed and developed by University of Southampton MEng students over a trial site in Portugal. The UAV was mounted with visible and infrared cameras, which were used to observe the effect of the implemented deficit on field grown herb crops. Ultimately, the thermal data collected by the infrared camera is converted using a crop water stress index to inform the irrigation schedule without subjecting the grower to crop losses.

This research takes place going into the third year of the project, which has already had success reducing water use in potted herbs grown in a commercial glasshouse, without impacting on flavour, aroma or shelf life. Initial findings from the Portugal field trials suggest that similar success can be expected from these trials, contributing to an international drive to conserve resources, particularly in agriculture.

View the pictures of us in the field at http://www.taylorlab.co.uk/gallery/