Grown Here at Home: Virginia Tech using drones and robots to research soybeans on SmartFarm

Published: Nov. 4, 2019 at 5:54 AM EST
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We're not in the growing season right now, but a test field on Kentland Farm at Virginia Tech is where they grow soybeans. It's part of research happening within the SmartFarm Innovation Network.

"The type of work that is going on over here is laying the foundation for developing technologies and working with the industry to deploy it at the farms across the state of Virginia," explained Saied Mostaghimr, associate dean for research and director of Virginia agriculture experimentation.

The edamame research is being funded by the USDA. They're learning how to breed edamame that grows best in Virginia's climate.

"We are using drones to survey the farm during the growth season to see how fast the canopy will expand for different varieties of edamame, which are a type of green vegetable soybean. We use drone technologies in the way that we can survey a large acreage of farm in a very short period of time," said Song Li, assistant professor at Virginia Tech.

They can also do it more frequently. The ability to look at the crop from 300 feet in the air helps them to see which variety will grow faster.

They're also using drones to measure plant height and developing robots for the field.

"We are also working on developing autonomous vehicle technology so that we can use robots to drive themselves in the field," Li said.

Using this type of technology can come at a great cost, but researchers are working toward using affordable, consumer grade technology so farms in rural Virginia will be able to utilize the technology on their farms.

"I've been really impressed by the great interest that our stakeholders, the farmers, have actually shown in this process for this initiative," Mostaghimr said.

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