Researchers program drone to hunt PVY in potatoes

John O’Connell/Capital Press
Donna Delparte, an assistant professor of geosciences at Idaho State University, shows the large drone built by ISU’s robotics and communications program to support heavy cameras she’s acquired for evaluating causes of yield declines in potatoes and sugar beets. She and J.R. Simplot Co. will partner on the research.Researchers say they’ve pinpointed individual spud plants infected with potato virus Y with 90 percent accuracy, using hyperspectral cameras mounted on drones. Donna Delparte, an assistant professor of geosciences at Idaho State University, and graduate student Mike Griffel have successfully tested a “computer-learning” algorithm they developed to tease out PVY from spectral imaging “background noise,” such as field variability and unrelated crop stress. “Our premise was to look at all of these wavelengths of light the human eye can’t see and look for differences between healthy plants and plants infected with PVY,” Griffel said, adding their images had leaf-scale resolution. Griffel said the project detected disease well before potato crops reached the row-closure stage, far earlier than people can spot symptoms of PVY by scouting fields.  “We feel like we’re right on the cusp of taking this to a really fast, efficient way of detecting the virus,” Delparte said. More