Hermiston, Oregon

The 2013 UAS / Precision Agriculture experiment in Hermiston, Oregon is made possible through a research partnership between Oregon State University's Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center; USDA's Agriculture Research Service; The Boeing Company; and PARADIGM. The research intends to demonstrate and / or investigate the following:?

Whether technologically advanced sensors, carried by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), are capable of producing valuable crop-related imagery to farmers and land managers.
Whether the raw UAS-collected imagery can be refined and provided to the farm decision maker within hours of its collection.
Whether the data can be collected in a manner that is cost-efficient.
And whether the data is of such value that it enables application of farm inputs through Variable Rate Technology, generating an efficient response to crop-related diseases, infections, and stresses.


Dr. Raymond Hunt, Research Scientist, USDA-ARS, Beltsville, Maryland (ARS)

Dr. Don Horneck, Extension Agronomist, OSU Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center, Hermiston, Oregon (HAREC)


1) That technologically advanced sensors, carried by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), are capable of producing valuable crop-related imagery to farmers and land managers.

2) That the imagery could be collected and provided under the following conditions and characteristics:

That it could minimize data latency:

That quality, UAS-collected data and imagery could be refined and provided to the farm decision maker within hours of its collection;

That the data could be collected in a manner that is cost-efficient;

And that it could be of such value that it enables a new level of efficient response to crop-related diseases, infections, and stresses;

The important crop production region of the Columbia Basin of Oregon and Washington presents an ideal setting in which to test these theories. Potatoes are our primary test crop for the studies in 2013.


Remote sensing images for agriculture have been acquired for a long time using manned aircraft (Colwell, 1956), and over the past 30 years commercial satellite data providers have looked to agriculture end users as important customers. If cloud-free satellite data could be acquired it was often costly, took weeks or months before information was delivered, or the quality of the imagery was of little use for crop management or monitoring. Many growers have experimented with remote sensing, and some have found the images useful, but to date, satellite remote sensing has not been successful in meeting the requirements of agricultural users.

Remote sensing by UAS has the potential to significantly reduce the current costs of acquiring image data for crop management and monitoring. UAS-based imagery is expected to have resolutions measured in inches compared with 10's of feet from satellites or several feet from fixed wing aircraft. It is also anticipated to be capable of collecting multiple revisits per week throughout the growing season. Digital sensors facilitate image analysis and comparison between collection dates. Automated computer processing increases productivity and reduces cost and delivery time, but many challenges remain.

Current management for potatoes is on a field by field basis. All parts of a single field are treated identically following planting, often under a best management practices (BMPs) regime for determining the amounts of irrigation, nutrients and pesticides applied. Because fertilizers are costly, BMPs recommend applying 90-95% of the requirements to obtain maximum economic yields for potatoes, based on soil tests (Hopkins et al., 2007). Some areas of a field will not have maximum yields, but most of the fertilizer applied will be taken up by the plants.

In an effort to increase yield on underperforming areas within a field, extra fertilizer may be applied over the whole field. Excess fertilizers add extra cost to a grower. Potato growing areas are often associated with nitrate contamination of groundwater, an environmental problem associated with intense agriculture and sandy soils (Alva, 2004).

Precision agriculture is based on the premise that different parts of a field will have different yield potentials, due to soil type differences, topography, etc. so fertilizer applications vary based on yield potential and crop requirements. Nutrients are spread with variable rate applicators (VRA) guided by a GPS location (Koch and Khosla, 2003). In some cropping systems, fertilization recommendations for a VRA system are provided by yield monitors or/and on-the-go sensors (Shanahan et al., 2008).

Under the principles of Integrated Pest Management (IPM), growers employ a variety of tools, methods, and technologies to both reduce the overall use of pesticides while at the same time reducing their costs of production. UAS could provide significant value to the overall goals of IPM by potentially identifying and locating crop threats in a more accurate and timely manner than currently performed by field scouts. In areas where the cost of water for irrigation is increasing due to power costs, water could be applied when and where needed based on soil properties and crop needs.

UAS have many important characteristics as platforms for agricultural remote sensing. First and foremost is the ability to fly at low altitudes and acquire very high spatial resolution imagery (Hunt et al., 2010). With analysis of color-infrared images, fertilizer recommendations could be made based on the same algorithms as on-the-go sensors. Other types of imagery, such as thermal infrared, are required for detecting irrigation requirements. The very high spatial resolution images would also help detect weeds, insects or diseases early. Therefore, UAS provide an adaptable and general platform for crop monitoring.


A Hawkeye and Unicorn UAS and a variety of sensors are used to collect data over HAREC. Being a parasail, the Hawkeye flies slowly and at lower altitudes. The Unicorn UAS is capable of higher speeds and altitudes.

Two experiments using potatoes and wheat have been established:

Low to high nitrogen application rates (based on yield goals)

Low to high irrigation rates (based on expected evapotranspiration rates)

Additional data is also collected. Dr. Phil Hamm has established plots for studying potato diseases, and we determine if and when we can detect symptoms. Based on a Certificate of Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration, the Hawkeye platform flies only in the HAREC airspace. An FAA-certified pilot is in constant control, and an observer monitors the flight, watching for approaching aircraft or safety hazards.

  • Alva, A., Potato nitrogen management. Journal of Vegetable Crop Production 10:97-132, 2004. Carlson, T., An overview of the “Triangle Method” for estimating surface evapotranspiration and soil moisture from satellite imagery. Sensors 7:1612-1629, 2007.
  • Colewell, R. N., Determining the prevalence of certain cereal crop diseases by means of aerial photography. Hilgardia 26:223-286, 1956.
  • Hopkins, B. G., D. A. Horneck, M. J. Pavek, B. D. Geary, et al., Evaluation of potato production best management practices. Amer. J. Potato Res. 84:19-27, 2007.
  • Hunt, E. R., W. D. Hively, S. J. Fujikawa, D. S. Linden, C. S. T. Daughtry, and G. W. McCarty, Acquisition of NIR-green-blue digital photographs from unmanned aircraft for crop monitoring. Remote Sens. 2:290-305, 2010.
  • Koch, B. and R. Khosla, The role of precision agriculture in cropping systems. J. Crop Prod. 9:361-381, 2003.
  • Shanahan, J. F., N. R. Kitchen, W. R. Raun, and J. S. Schepers, Responsive in-season nitrogen management for cereals. Comp. Elec. Agric 61:51-62, 2008.



HAREC – Hermiston Project Briefing paper


OSU – “Remote-controlled aircraft to fly near Hermiston for Potato Research“

The Examiner – “Drones to Monitor Oregon Potatoes“

Below are examples of the imagery from the experiment:
Flight Operations
UAV flight concept of operations:

The UAV system includes an aircraft, operator, observer, and ground control station. The flight team keeps visual contact with the aircraft for the entire flight. The ground control station is located in the field and maintains line of sight contact with the aircraft at all times.

Data Collection

The UAV flies a path pre-determined by the operator using software in the ground control station. The flight-path can be adjusted real time for different flight conditions. Flights include enough overlap in each pass to ensure thorough data is collected.


Images collected by the UAV are downloaded directly from the camera in the field. This data is used to create a precise image of the entire field for further research. Many visual and non-visual spectrums can be used to study a field. The data from all of the flight passes is processed and represented as one large image.

Photos of UAV flights

uav flight prep 1
uav flight prep 2
uav flight prep 3

Field Day Flyer – June 26, 2013
OSU Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center

Hermiston, OR
Oregon State University's Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center (HAREC) supports high value irrigated agricultural production in the Columbia Basin of Oregon and Washington. Since the establishment of the Center over 100 years ago, scientists have provided new and significant research based information to area farmers and consultants, supporting crop production and natural resource management in one of the most agriculturally productive regions in the world. The Center has modern laboratories, green houses and screen houses to support on-site scientists as well as state-of-the-art technology to aid field research studies on nearly 250 acres of land served by 13 computer-controlled center-pivot irrigation systems. The Center is part of the Agricultural Experiment Station of the College of Agricultural Sciences and is also substantially supported financially by local growers, agricultural businesses and the community.

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USDA Agricultural Research Service

The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) is the principal in-house research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). ARS is charged with extending the nation’s scientific knowledge and solving a full range of U.S. agricultural problems.

Dr. Ray Hunt of ARS Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville, Maryland is the lead investigator of the 2013 Hermiston research project. Dr. Hunt's work is fundamental to the ARS to develop and transfer solutions to agricultural problems of high national priority, and provide information access and dissemination to:

* Ensure high quality, safe food and other agricultural products,
* Assess the nutritional needs of Americans,
* Sustain a competitive agricultural economy,
* Enhance the natural resource base and the environment, and
* Provide economic opportunities to rural citizens, communities, and society as a whole.

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USDA Remote Sensing Site

Seattle, WA
As part of Boeing's EO&T organization, Boeing Research & Technology (BR&T) is focused on technical excellence, enhancing Boeing's growth and productivity, and helping the company operate more effectively so that it can provide its customers with solutions that best meet their needs. BR&T provides innovative technologies that enable the development of future aerospace solutions while improving the cycle time, cost, quality and performance of current aerospace products and services. BR&T is the Boeing unit working with industry, academic, and government team members to perform Precision Agriculture research. In support of the 2013 research at HAREC, Boeing provided all of the equipment primarily the aircraft, sensor package, and aircraft control station. The Boeing team is applying the expertise gained from its involvement in Resource 21, a NASA remote sensing program, to provide technical assistance in the management, or fusion of raw data into a format useful to the farmer.

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Bend, OR
PARADIGM manages the FAA approval process for the UAS flight program, and assumes day to day responsibility for the safe conduct of UAV flights. PARADIGM is a small business specializing in the management and implementation of unmanned vehicle data collection systems, with an emphasis on unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and their applications to agriculture, public safety, natural resources, academic research, communications systems, and a wide variety of other subject areas.

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