BLACKVILLE — Unmanned aircraft have been cleared for takeoff above
the farm fields at Clemson University’s Edisto Research and Education
Center in Blackville.
The eyes in the sky will monitor crop health and gather data to
improve farming efficiency and productivity by letting growers know
precisely when and where to water, fertilize or spray crops. The
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) also quickly spot diseased livestock
that require attention.
Joe Mari Maja, a research sensor engineer at the Edisto center,
received Federal Aviation Administration approval in December to fly a
UAV as part of his effort to technologize farming in South Carolina with
the use of “intelligent agritronics devices.”
These sensor technologies can be used on UAVs to collect a wide range
of crop data quickly to help farmers improve soil quality and eradicate
pests and disease. The UAVs allow for much quicker crop monitoring; a
UAV can analyze a 10-acre field in less than five minutes, work that
takes a person days or weeks to complete, Maja said.
“I believe the applications for this are just enormous,” said Maja,
who has a background in computer engineering. “UAV is a game-changer in
Not only will the unmanned aircraft collect data more quickly, but
Maja is working to make the data easier for farmers to interpret. He is
developing sensors that can transmit crop data to such wearable devices
as smart glasses. He’s also built prototype circuit boards that will
allow UAVs to communicate directly with farm technology like irrigation
“That’s my dream,” Maja said.
Clemson is renovating a laboratory at the Edisto center that will
allow Maja to build and test prototypes rapidly. His work will result in
new and improved sensors and UAVs designed for farmers.
Maja joined Clemson University’s precision-agriculture research
program last year to develop techniques that can improve profitability
and environmental sustainability in the state’s largest industry,
agriculture. The S.C. General Assembly supports this program because of
its economic impact on the state.
Precision agriculture reduces waste and optimizes farm equipment and
materials by targeting the amount and locations of water, fertilizer and
chemicals to the specific areas of a field where the products are
needed. Maja’s work is particularly important in South Carolina, where
fields are subject to high degrees of soil variability.
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