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John Faus of drone manufacturer HoneyComb demonstrates an agricultural drone in a California pistachio orchard.

A California grower is hoping a thermal camera mounted on an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) will pick up irrigation line leaks in his pistachio orchard so he can fix them faster.

Irrigation experts say California farmers looking to save water will be early adopters of drone technology, and not just to check for leaks. By using thermal cameras, drones can help determine when plants are water-stressed or when they’re getting too much water.

“For agricultural purposes, they’re going to be a real powerful tool,” says David Zoldoske, who heads the Center for Irrigation Technology at Fresno State and co-authored a recent state report on water-saving technologies.

Drones will help farmers “to get more information, in real time, to make better decisions,” about everything on the farm, adds Zoldoske. “We joke about being able to take pictures of individual bugs sitting on the plants. With the right algorithm you could count all the bugs on the plants if things work out.”

Image courtesy of KQED Science/Zach Sheely.

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