UAS Research Supports Puerto Rican Coffee Growers

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Puerto Rico’s storied coffee farms – a source of pride and a key economic driver – were among the crops hardest hit by the back-to-back hurricanes.
This summer, researchers from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the Gaetz Aerospace Institute at Embry-Riddle and the University of Michigan launched a project to inform and potentially help protect Puerto Rico’s coffee industry before the next major hurricane strikes the island.
By comparing before-and-after storm images captured by satellites as well as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), the researchers are investigating whether hurricanes do more damage to coffee farms located in shady forests or in open fields, explained Embry-Riddle’s Dr. Kevin Adkins.
The goal is to assess how different coffee production styles affect both crop resistance to hurricanes and resilience – the rate at which a farm bounces back after a storm passes, said Adkins, an associate professor of aeronautical science on Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach, Fla., campus. Researchers also want to learn how planting many different crops versus a single crop affects a farm’s productivity and resilience.
In late July, Adkins traveled to Puerto Rico with Peter Wambolt, an Embry-Riddle alumnus and current graduate student who is now working for the university’s Gaetz Aerospace Institute, a dual-enrollment program that helps Florida high-school students earn college credits. Once on-site, the researchers set up their project in collaboration with Ivette Perfecto, Shannon Brines, Meha Jain, John Vandermeer and Kristopher Harmon of the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability.
“The data are now being analyzed at both universities,” Adkins said. “We hope to use the lessons learned and the data collected on this trip to inform our strategy on subsequent trips, and ultimately, to help Puerto Rico’s coffee farmers reduce crop losses caused by big storms.”
Working in partnership with coffee farmers, the group is comparing moderate-resolution microsatellite images with high-resolution shots snapped …

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