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The Sky is the Limit

“Funding makes ideas happen and allows a transfer of the science to live in a better world.”

The Sky is the Limit

What began as a simple interest in the fields of Naples, Italy, has grown into full-blown passion for MSU researcher Bruno Basso. Basso, an associate professor of crop modeling and land use sustainability at MSU’s College of Natural Science, uses drone technology to assess crop production.

Basically, it’s precision agriculture. Precise in that the drones are so accurate—within centimeters.

“I can predict a field in Iowa from East Lansing,” Basso said. “The drones are equipped with several sensors that allow us to detect areas of unproductive crops. A crop model we developed at MSU called SALUS (system approach for land use sustainability) informs farmers what the best management practices are.”

For example, if a certain area in a field isn’t producing as well, the drones tell GPS-equipped tractors how crops are behaving, which areas are affected by diseases or pests, where there are deficient nutrients, or those that need water. The technology aids farmers to use fewer gallons of fertilizer or pesticide, thus reducing environmental impact—greenhouse gasses, nitrate leaching, CO2 emissions—and increasing profit.

In this age of big data, farmers simply access an app on their mobile device to get information collected from the machines in their fields.

“The technology is very impressive but it’s what do you do with the data—that's where science comes in,” Basso adds.

Basso received a PhD from MSU in 2000, and returned to MSU from Italy in 2012; he is also a part of MSU’s Global Water Initiative.

Basso has studied soil and plant climate for 25 years, but there is still work to be done; he isn’t creating articles for the sake of creating, or simply interacting among the sciences.

“There is a certain pragmatism at MSU,” Basso said. “We are developing highly-sophisticated models, and transferring that technology to solve global food issues.”

However, the high competition and low success rate for funding are ever-present. As with every researcher, funding is crucial.

“Funding makes ideas happen and allows a transfer of the science to create a better world,” Basso said. “Our goal is to bring the technology to places it doesn’t yet exist.”

Commercialization of the drone technology is the next step, and SALUS crop modeling means more jobs and a better future for generations to come. With the proper tools, there really is no limit to what Basso’s research may accomplish.

Author: Sarah Wardell