2019 featured research
Our research focuses on the practical use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems in agriculture. We partner with academic, state and federal researchers to explore the applications and limitations of UAS in the National Airspace System. M3 Consulting Group is internationally recognized as a leader in the development of UAS in the area of Sterile Insect Technique and more broadly in Area-Wide Integrated Pest Management applications.
codling moth Sterile insect release
Over the course of 22 weeks during the summer of 2018, M3 Consulting Group worked closely with Washington State University Entomologist Dr. Betsy Beers and her team, along with the Okanagan-Kootenay Sterile Insect Release (OKSIR) program to test whether the release of sterile codling moth could help decrease codling moth populations and reduce the damage in Washington orchards. Codling moth causes serious damage to apples as larvae bore into the fruit, eating their way to the core of the apple. While chemical control measures exist, this pest remains the number one threat to the Washington apple industry.
Over the course of the 2018 summer, M3 hired and trained employees from the area, in and around Okanogan and Methow Valleys of Central Washington. M3 facilitated their training on UAS operations related to codling moth releases. This highly skilled, FAA licensed workforce is capable of operating UAS within the USA. M3 is committed to developing this emerging field of UAS for the Washington State agriculture industry using local talent.
The results of the program were extremely promising. As a result, M3 expanded to 1,200 commercial acres during 2019 and plans on further expansion in the coming years.
Asian longhorned beetle survey and detection
The primary purpose of this research is to support the area-wide eradication of tree pests including the Asian longhorned beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis)(ALB) throughout the United States, specifically in the currently infested areas of Massachusetts and Ohio. The methods developed in this project are expected to aid other United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey programs for other forest pests, including cerambycids, buprestids, as well as inspection of ships for Asian gypsy moth egg masses. While these methods have broad applicability, ALB represents an excellent model system for developing these techniques.
Recently, M3 and the USDA tested the UAS in leaf on canopy conditions in Bethel, Ohio. We found that the Aegis UAS was capable of identifying ALB damage from distances up to twenty feet. The UAS uses a suite of sensors to maintain extremely precise positioning, meaning the UAS is capable of flying into dense forest environments. We will continue to evolve this initiative and will work this winter with USDA in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Swarm sterile insect technique
Fruit Fly aerial release is currently the largest SIT effort in USDA-APHIS and uses conventional aircraft. Recently, we have used UAS in successful releases of pink bollworm with studies showing the sustained vitality and longevity of the insects post-release. Swarm technology, flying multiple UAS at once, may offer a means to approach the volume of insects released by conventional aircraft while offering reduced cost, risk, and time to deployment. When cloud ceilings are below minimum insect release heights, and conventional fixed wing aircraft are grounded due to inclement weather or Visual Flight Rules limitations, UAS may be able to complete flight missions to disperse sterile Mexican Fruit Flies into south Texas citrus groves. Current ground release methods using truck-mounted air blast equipment have been shown to provide uneven distributions of sterile flies, with large accumulations of flies around the grove/road interfaces. UAS offers an alternative means and more uniform distribution of fruit flies than ground releases.
After the successful release of sterile pink bollworm during the summer of 2015, M3 Consulting Group began exploring other applications of UAS. Recently, the refinement of autopilot technologies for use with small UAS applications led to the possibility of using several UAS to autonomously fly as a “swarm” to achieve greater coverage and address payload limitations. Swarm technology provides control and monitoring of several UAS from a single computer and pilot.
Rangeland remote sensing
The ability to survey rangeland in a cost-effective manner is an important topic of this research and will affect the methods development and tools which are selected. Rangelands encompass the majority of the land area of the earth and surveying this massive area in a cost-effective manner is the primary benefit of remote sensing methodologies. Use of this technology by stakeholders will require UAS field methods to be established and this research will test the efficacy of these field methods with the scale of rangeland survey in consideration.
M3 deployed UAS with downward facing LiDAR to remote rangeland in South Dakota with the goal of identifying rangeland grasshopper populations by sensing the change in biomass. Using these technologies, we are capable of detecting minute rates of change in large areas. The data sensed and collected on our systems will inform range managers about grasshopper population densities through the assessment of biomass and will enable our stakeholders to make data driven decisions about control regimes impacting their rangeland. Beyond entomology, this technology also provides valuable data to ranchers who need precise biomass measurements for managing grazing herds.