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Thermal imaging aids USDA water management research

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FLIR Systems has published a new application story that describes how the FLIR A655sc thermal imaging camera now provides an indispensable means of data collection to the USDA Water Management research program.

At the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), researchers are looking into ways for farmers to be more productive by using less water. They do this, among other things, by deliberately imposing stress on crops and monitoring the water stress. The most established method for detecting crop water stress remotely is through the measurement of a crop’s surface or canopy temperature. As the crop becomes water stressed, the leaves will start to curl and transpiration will decrease leading to an increase in leaf temperature.

Traditionally the USDA had used IR thermometers for this task but found the technique limited as it do not provide an image. Looking to thermal imaging to provide a solution, the USDA required a high resolution camera able to look close enough and clearly see the difference between water-stressed plants and plants with sufficient water supply. They also wanted to clearly separate plant temperature and ground temperature and see the difference between shaded leaves and non-shaded leaves. After evaluating a selection of high-resolution thermal cameras the USDA chose the FLIR A655sc research camera because it easily met all their requirements.

The FLIR A655sc provides 14-bit data up to 50 frames per second at full frame 640 × 480 resolution. A spokesperson for the USDA commented " We are  very satisfied with the image  quality of the FLIR A655sc. In our thermal images of sunflowers, we can clearly see the flower head that is hotter and the leaves that are 5 degrees colder. But also more in detail, we can see that the veins of the leaf are hotter than the rest of the leaf. This is highly quantitative data."  The spokesperson added “The FLIR camera has also proven to be very robust. While we are driving our tractor mounted thermal imaging set-up through the test fields, it can be hot and dusty sometimes, but the camera has done very well throughout our period of use. ”  The FLIR A655sc thermal imaging camera is now a major contributor to the USDA Water Management research program.