Category Archives: Research

Sky is the limit for using drones in land management

Adam Downing, Virginia Cooperative Extension forestry agent for the Northern District, is pictured with the eBee at Clermont Farm in Clarke County. Clermont will install a silvopasture demonstration and research project in collaboration with Virginia Tech. The eBee was used to establish detailed baseline land-cover data and historical resources.

Adam Downing, Virginia Cooperative Extension forestry agent for the Northern District, is pictured with the eBee at Clermont Farm in Clarke County. Clermont will install a silvopasture demonstration and research project in collaboration with Virginia Tech. The eBee was used to establish detailed baseline land-cover data and historical resources.

Virginia Tech has another tool in its arsenal for managing land resources that can be used to do everything from inventorying forests and identifying land-use changes to assessing soil erosion and water runoff on agriculture lands.

What is this powerful tool? A 1.5-pound unmanned aircraft, or drone.

“Our drone, a fixed-wing eBee, carried two different sensors — true color and infrared — that gathered land-use and land-cover data to support inventory mapping,” said John McGee, professor and Virginia Cooperative Extension geospatial specialist in Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.

The eBee’s sensors capture data that will enable researchers to measure vegetative vigor — places in which chlorophyll activity differs drastically across the terrain. If the ground vegetation is stressed in a confined area, it might indicate that a structure, perhaps a foundation, is buried underground.

This drone is not just a small airplane; it is a complete and sophisticated system, composed of flight-planning software, a camera, sensor technology, and post-processing data software. The eBee flies under the direction of a licensed pilot, operating on parameters provided through the flight-planning software prior to launching. It continually assesses wind speed, wind direction, and other data. The pilot can also monitor environmental conditions and modify the flight plan and the imagery being captured while the plane is in flight.

Forestry applications for the unmanned aircraft include inventorying forests, identifying changes in urban forests, and monitoring forest health. Agriculture applications include assessing soil erosion, water runoff, and crop health. Facilities planners can analyze pedestrian traffic and lighting needs, plan for emergencies, and use thermal sensors to monitor energy use. The aircraft can also be used to conduct wildlife inventories.

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International policy starts in Blacksburg

Jason Grant, director of the  Center for Agricultural Trade

Jason Grant, director of the
Center for Agricultural Trade

The new Center for Agricultural Trade at Virginia Tech is paying big dividends for the commonwealth and the nation.

Recently the center found itself in the midst of the highly contested international trade relations negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The topic? The heavily protected global dairy market.

The center relentlessly produced up-to-the-minute export models during the negotiations, which were under discussion until the eleventh hour. The models provided clear-cut export scenarios that put the realities of trade tariffs into sharper focus. The International Trade Commission and the Office of the Chief Economist — a political body that reports directly to the president of the United States — used the models.

Part think tank, part classroom, and part idea incubator, the center’s mission is to become the leader in creation and dissemination of information on agricultural policy for legislators, educators, and industry leaders.

“With our proximity to Washington, D.C., and our port in Hampton, Virginia, we are perfectly situated to function as a practical resource for policymakers,” said Jason Grant, center director and associate professor of agricultural and applied economics.

Participating in the TPP talks is just one example of the many ways the center plays a key role in shaping national agricultural policy.

During the TPP negotiations that were held in Atlanta last year, Grant and his team provided key modeling information regarding the tightly regulated markets in the global dairy sector that paid off big time.

The concrete gains and losses laid out in black and white allowed the U.S. to solidify a huge win for negotiations around dairy exports and resulted in gaining access to lucrative markets in previously out-of-reach countries like Japan and Canada.

Now U.S. producers enjoy a duty-free quota in Japanese markets and have acquired access to tightly held Canadian markets. Items that run the gamut from cheeses and butter to milk powder and heavy cream are part of the product landscape that Japanese and Canadian consumers will enjoy thanks to Grant and his team.

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