龙8娱乐app下载报道How one agronomist鈥檚 new software company is raising the bar for agricultural drone imagery._龙8娱乐app下载官网资讯

Katy Rainey鈥檚 work relies on diverse perspectives鈥攍iterally. The Purdue University soybean breeder spends hours walking through fields of crops, tracking their health and abundance. But recently, she鈥檚 also spent time observing these same fields from above, as she develops groundbreaking software for monitoring crops via drone photography.

Rainey has been drawn to plants since her childhood in Tennessee, where she grew up in a family with close ties to gardening and farming. After completing an undergraduate degree in botany, she received a Ph.D. at Cornell in plant genetics, merging her lifelong interest in all things rooted in the ground with a newfound passion for genetics and their role in whether plants thrive鈥攐r don鈥檛.

Rainey鈥檚 curiosity about genetics was driven in part by conversations about GMOs she had during her college years. 鈥淚 saw a presentation on germplasm collections [commonly known as seed banks] and I thought, 鈥極h, this is so interesting!鈥欌 Rainey could see that plant genetics were important, and that the field was growing fast. Without taking a particular stance on the issue, Rainey found the GMO controversy was intrinsically interesting. After all, she chuckles, 鈥測oung people have a heightened sense of drama!鈥

Despite the appeal of the GMO debate, Rainey鈥檚 interest in agronomics was actually quite practical. She remembers thinking, 鈥淭he job of plant breeder will never go away!鈥 With about 4.6 billion bushels predicted to be produced in the U.S. this year, soybeans aren鈥檛 going away either, making them especially well suited to Rainey鈥檚 forward-thinking mindset.

Rainey鈥檚 work as a breeder began at Virginia Tech, where she focused on soybeans marketed to East Asia for human consumption. The job had exciting travel perks. 鈥淚 went on trade missions to Japan and met with tofu manufacturers, to learn about what a great soybean looks like for them,鈥 she says. The work was interesting, but Rainey explains that the portion of the crop marketed in this way is鈥渁 tiny part of the market,鈥 and ultimately, she aimed to do something with more impact.

Funding goals

When she moved to Purdue, Rainey鈥檚 work took on a broader scope. Since the majority of U.S. soybeans are grown for livestock feed, Rainey is now focusing her breeding efforts on creating healthier diets for pigs and chickens. She works on modifying carbohydrate conversion so that soybeans are digested more efficiently, making it less expensive for farmers to raise healthy, well-fed livestock, which results in less expensive meat.

Since the majority of U.S. soybeans are grown for livestock feed, Rainey is now focusing her breeding efforts on creating healthier diets for pigs and chickens.

Rainey鈥檚 work is part of a program funded by the United Soybean Board (USB). This nationwide organization awards research grants each year based on the needs and priorities of the farmers who fund USB through a self-imposed tax. Rainey believes this funding process has a positive influence on her field. 鈥淚 like doing things that are tangibly valuable,鈥 she notes. 鈥淎nd when you don鈥檛 have science funded competitively, people can be less prone to evaluate why they鈥檙e doing what they鈥檙e doing. I say thank you to the farmers who fund me鈥攊t keeps me from getting too far in the weeds.鈥

Asked to consider the drawbacks of her funding model, Rainey suggests that longer-term funding cycles of five years (as opposed to two or three) might allow her to focus more completely on the work and spend less time pursuing funding. In the end, however, as a researcher in applied sciences, Rainey both understands and appreciates the importance of stakeholder value.

A new application for drones

With so much in-depth knowledge of soybean plants, Rainey understands that 鈥渢o make improvements to quality, we will have to be able to measure that quality more precisely.鈥 That鈥檚 where her new role as an agricultural drone mapping software entrepreneur comes in.

An enormous amount of data is required to evaluate crops, Rainey says, and it can be hard to gather. 鈥淧lant breeding is very driven by logistical constraints. The more genetic diversity you collect and evaluate, the more progress you鈥檒l make toward improving yield.鈥 But that information must be gathered over hundreds or even thousands of acres before it can become useful numbers on a screen.

With this in mind, she embarked on the second chapter of her career. In 2013, she was approached by Purdue researcher and Ph.D. candidate Anthony Hearst with a novel concept for measuring crops: agricultural drones. 鈥淲e were doing this big genetic experiment with soybean plants, determining what genes control yield, with about 5,000 plots,鈥 Rainey recalls. 鈥淚 thought, if we鈥檙e going to do this, I want to get as much data as possible. Let鈥檚 fly a drone over it and see what we can get.鈥 The results were so compelling that Rainey felt she had to share them with the world. With that, she and Hearst formed Progeny Drone. The goal: to give breeders the tools to evaluate crops in the field on a large scale, quickly.

Given that crop data is as perishable as the crops themselves, getting fast answers is a benefit to farmers. Progeny works offline, making it possible for breeders to gather data and analyze it in minutes鈥攅ven if they鈥檙e standing knee-deep in a soybean field, 20 minutes from the nearest power outlet.

Rainey returns to her practical roots when she talks about Progeny鈥檚 potential. She insists she鈥檚 not interested in the hard sell; rather, she says, 鈥淭his is just really useful, and I think people should know about it!鈥 With so much riding on the simple soybean, the world is bound to take notice.

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