Thermal Infrared Imagery for Better Water Conservation in Agricultural Fields
Hawkins, G. L.
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Water conservation is an issue that involves all citizens in Georgia. Within the agricultural row crop community, water is a very important part of producing a harvestable and profitable product. Although irrigation is used only as a supplement to natural rainfall, it can greatly affect crop yield and quality. Because of increasing public and industrial concerns over water quality and quantity, the agricultural community must also develop sustainable management systems that conserve water. One method that can be used is conservation tillage. The benefit of water savings through reduced tillage and residue management is a function of: 1) the amount of crop residue that remains after planting, and 2) the amount of water available for the growing plant. The main objective of this study was to evaluate field scale variability in crop response to tillage regime using an unmanned aerial system (UAS). The UAS is equipped with a thermal infrared imager (8-12um) and has an approximate spatial resolution of 0.5 –1.0 m. Treatments consisted of three different cover crops (clover, rye and a rye/clover mix) managed as a strip tillage system and one conventional tillage system with no winter cover. Soil water content (10 –20 cm) and stomatal conductance measurements were collected coincident with each UAS data acquisition. Thermal infrared imagery was validated using hot and cold calibration tar-gets (2 m x 2m each) equipped with thermal couples that were monitored every second and averaged over a one minute span throughout the data acquisition. The soil moisture was significant between the clover and other plots in June, but the rye was significant as compared to the other plots in august. The digital values as recorded by the thermal near infrared camera were significant between the three treatments of rye and clover and conventional tillage in June, but no difference was seen in august. Overall, the use of the soil moisture probes and thermal near infrared camera can be useful tools in helping deter-mine if ample water is being applied to crops.