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A Partnership: UAVs and Wheat Breeding with Arron Carter and Lav Khot

Posted by Blythe Howell | April 1, 2019

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Show Notes & Resources Mentioned:

Contact Information:

Contact Arron Carter via email at Contact Lav Khot via email at

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Episode Transcription:

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Hello. Welcome to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. I’m your host, Drew Lyon, and I want to thank you for joining me as we explore the world of small grains production and research at Washington State University. In each episode, I speak with researchers WSU and the USDA-ARS to provide you with insights into the latest research on wheat and barley production. If you enjoy the WSU Wheat Beat podcast do us a favor and subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app and leave us a review while you’re there so others can find the show too.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: My guests today are Dr. Lav Khot and Dr. Arron Carter. Dr. Khot is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Systems Engineering at Washington State University, he’s one of the core faculty members of the Center for Precision and Automated Agricultural System and works in the Agricultural Automation Engineering Research emphasis are of the department. His research and extension program at WSU focuses on sensing and automation technologies for site-specific and precision management of production agriculture. Hello Lav.

Lav Khot: Hello.

Drew Lyon: Dr. Carter is an Associate Professor and O.A. Vogel Endowed Chair of Wheat Breeding and Genetics in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences at Washington State University. His research is directed toward breeding improved winter wheat varieties for cropping systems in Washington State that incorporate diverse rotations and environments. The program goal is to release high yielding disease resistant varieties with good end-use quality that will maintain profitability and reduce the risk to growers. Varieties are developed using a combination of traditional plant breeding methods, molecular marker technology, biotechnology, and High Throughput Phenotyping. Hello Arron.

Arron Carter: Hi, Drew, how are you today?

Drew Lyon: Pretty good. So I was wondering, how did the two groups, two different departments, two areas of expertise, how did the two of you come together to work on the projects you’re working on?

Arron Carter: Yeah, I think it started a little bit with me. So we had had some projects going with High Throughput Phenotyping, basically using some handheld sensors and when Lav got here, you know, with his expertise in more of the engineering side and the sensors development I approached him and told him kind of about some of the projects that we had going on and where I thought I could use his expertise in those projects, so I think I got him a little excited about that and some of the possibilities and, you know after that, we just started working on projects and kind of had that continued collaboration ever since.

Drew Lyon: Okay. Yeah, so it’s just a visit from Arron, he was convincing enough that he that you decided to go work in that area, what attracted to the areas he was…

Lav Khot: Yeah so, very simply, we had this drone or small aerial systems emerging and when I had a meeting with Arron, and he told me some of the problems that we can look at using this technology, and that’s what, you know, basically problem and technology coming together is what happened.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Lav Khot: Yeah.

Drew Lyon: So tell us a little about the drone sensing work that the two of you did on wheat emergence.

Lav Khot: Sure. What we did is, you know, at the time we had these small unmanned aerial system platform and at that time, it was just emerging technologies, so we didn’t have many of these optical sensors that we have today, but what we had is a point and shoot camera, basically, RGB, I wanted to get NDVI or green NDVI basically, and so we wanted to, you know, see how useful that sensor is with drone missions to look at crop emergence and winter wheat, looking at the winter survival, spring stand and potentially look at the yield estimation aspects a little bit and most of the work that we did was on corporate that Arron had in Lind and…

Arron and Lav: Colotis.

Arron Carter: Yeah, so we kind of started out with some of the easier traits to look at with the, you know, the system, and then as the systems have become more complex and we’ve got better sensors and better devices, we’ve moved to then some of the more complex.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Arron Carter: Traits to look at, but yeah, for proof of concept, start of easy to see if it works.

Drew Lyon: So emergence would be something that’s easy it’s there, it’s not —

Arron Carter: Right, right.

Drew Lyon: And now, what are some of the more complex things that you’re looking at?

Arron Carter: Yeah, you know, at least in wheat, we’re starting to look at drought, so water use efficiency in the plant and how that water use actually gets converted to yield potential. Also starting to look at some disease resistance screening and can we actually get accurate notes, potentially even earlier than you can actually visually see the symptoms with some of the sensors.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So where can people use remote sensing and wheat production these days? I know you do a lot of work in the tree fruit area.

Lav Khot: Sure.

Drew Lyon: Very high-value crops.

Lav Khot: Yeah.

Drew Lyon: But what are some of the ideas you have for wide, broadacre crop like wheat?

Lav Khot: Well, as Arron mentioned, you know, we have to look at these traits through water, climate, maybe and then some of the disease aspects, right? So in terms of technology, you can use simply a thermally reading sensor and get the aspects of water stress, you know, in thermally reading you do, you measure with each pixel and image is a temperature.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Lav Khot: So you can use such image in there. In terms of going for the disease traits, I think you need to be more complex sensors, you know, like, the sensors that are out in the market multispectral, they can do, like oral signature, but they won’t tell you what is causing the stress.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Lav Khot: And so you care to go for disease and you care to go for hyperspectral sensing and the sensors are there, simply cannot be flown with the drones, as of now.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Lav Khot: So we had to do ground research and then find these bands, multispectral bands and then how the sensors deals with for screening certain disease, specific disease. And that’s where I think we need to go in terms of normal screening, like, looking at the stress, just not knowing which stress, but stress, besides, you know, drone, as a remote sensing tool, there’s a lot of developments of which is called orbiting Satellites, so now these low orbiting Satellites are giving you an image ever other day at points of one centimeter resolution. So you can use, you know, we have a have high orbiting Satellite’s giving thirty meters per pixel every fourteen days, then we have low orbiting giving .723 or five meter resolution and then use drones, so use layers of information in terms of production management.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Lav Khot: That’s where the, you know, the remote sensing is as of today, yeah.

Drew Lyon: Okay. I know as a weed scientist, the idea of figuring out what kind of weed pressure you might have will be of real interest and is it, you know, is it worthwhile to go out there and spray the whole field…

Lav Khot: Sure.

Drew Lyon: …or just have a little area I should deal with?

Lav Khot: Yeah, yeah,

Drew Lyon: And so that technology would work for something like that as well?

Lav Khot: Yes, and then you can do the remote sensing; again, there are unmanned aerial system platforms that also do surgical spraying.

Drew Lyon: Oh, really?

Lav Khot: Yeah, and so we, you know, there’s a company in Seattle they make certain types of drones and there are other players. So you can use these drones, map the field and how the GPS guide the coordinated points to go and just activates the nozzles to only spray on that spot, so it’s surgical spraying or spot spraying can be done with the drones, yeah.

Arron Carter: Is what I found, Drew, is sometimes it’s only limited by your imagination.

Lav Khot: True.

Drew Lyon: That’s just amazing.

Arron Carter: I mean, yeah, a lot of — we can do a lot different things with the systems like you mentioned, you know, looking at weed pressure, just looking at overall health of the crop across the field, you can start mapping out, you know, nutrient deficiencies in the field, I mean, again, it’s really only limited by what we can think of using the technology for.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So does WSU offer any training or workshop on drones or data analytics? I know there’s a lot of interest out there, but it’s a little more complicated than just going and buying a drone and throwing it up in the air.

Lav Khot: Yes. True. Yeah. Well, nowadays, you know, buying a flying a drone is very easy, to be honest, right? Compared to what we had in 2015 or 2016. Yes, and in terms of workshops, we do offer, in my program, at CPAAS, we have two workshops that are offered annually. The first one is a two day workshop on Manual Systems and Agriculture; so in two days what we do is, we take different types of drone platforms that we have in the market, we just go through all of the parts of the drone, how they come together, how they integrate, inputting optical sensors and basically, the idea is not to, you know, teach you how to build a drone, but if something goes wrong on the drone you should be able to at least figure out which part has gone wrong and you should be able to replace it. Then we do hands-on training on how to fly a drone with the optical that is there, we also do what is called Part 107 that is the regression, in terms of getting the drone pilot certification to fly the drones commercially, so that’s what this two day workshop coheres and we have in the last two years have had a very good response to this workshop. The second one is just a one day workshop, it’s called Drone Data Analytics and this is more popular than the two-day workshop because a lot of people are interested in the data side of the drones.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Lav Khot: And so we do this with the help of Pix4D company based in San Francisco, it draws a very simplified software to analyze the drone data to create layers of information. There’s another player that is there is MicaSense Sensor Company which deals with multispectral sensors based in Seattle and so the instructors come from there, and me, we do this for one day we just hands-on training on how to, you know, collect quality data, look at the quality of the data, and then analyze the data to create layers of information, that’s what we do in one day, yeah.

Drew Lyon: Okay. Very good and how would people find out about that? Is that up on a website somewhere?

Lav Khot: Yeah so yeah, we do have on CPASS website that is there, and once we finalize the dates we just try to promote WSU extension and other venues.

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Lav Khot: So that it goes to all stakeholders to if they’re interested that can come join us at CPAAS, yeah.

Drew Lyon: Okay. So is there a web address for CPAAS?

Lav Khot: Yeah, sure. There’s of course, my web page is there, but its part of the CPAAS website it is at: Www.CPAAS.WSU.EDU.

Drew Lyon: Okay. And, Arron, some of this data that you’ve been collecting now, do you see, you know, I know when we look at when you’re selecting a variety what it’s disease rating is, what it’s do you see some kind of new data point that you’d be providing growers? Drought, some kind of drought tolerance, or how do you see using it in the information that you share with growers, I guess, is what I’m asking.

Arron Carter: Right. Yeah, you know, so on the breeding side of it, you know, it can help us do the selections for disease resistance and that, I don’t know if that would necessarily transfer to a different grower rating, right?

Drew Lyon: Okay.

Arron Carter: So either going to be susceptible or resistant. We might be able to understand a little more though about how, maybe the plants grow or recover from the disease. You know, if you think of something like snow mold, a lot of that tolerance is about regrowing in the spring time, and not necessarily a true resistance. So these sensors, we can actually watch the plants growing over time and see which ones regrow faster than another one, so that gives a little more understanding. I think more importantly, would be like on drought or heat stress where we could actually give ratings to different varieties of how well they can withstand drought, how well they could withstand heat; so, you know, it kind of works in different ways, depending on what we’re looking at.

Drew Lyon: It’s really very interesting technology and like you said, but it’s only limited by our imagination these days and it’s, it’s pretty remarkable and neat to see the collaboration between the two of you, I think that’s really what’s going to move the ball forward is collaborations between disciplines so, thank you very much for your time.

Arron Carter: Yup. Thank you.

Lav Khot: Thank you.

[ Music ]

Drew Lyon: Thanks for joining us and listening to the WSU Wheat Beat podcast. If you like what you hear don’t forget to subscribe and leave a review on iTunes or your favorite podcasting app. If you have questions or topics, you’d like to hear on future episodes please email me at drew.lyon That’s ( You can find us online at and on Facebook and Twitter @WSUSmallGrains. The WSU Wheat Beat podcast is a production of CAHNRS Communications and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University. I’m Drew Lyon, we’ll see you next time.

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