You may’ve seen a farmer driving slowly down the road doing a “windshield survey” of his corn. Iowa State University researchers are trying to take that tried and true tradition to a high-tech surveillance system. ISU agronomy professor Mark Westgate is studying the use of satellites to track the release of pollen from corn. He says it’s very difficult to follow the pollen release over a large area when you’re at ground level. The pollen is released when the tassles pop out of the top of the corn and it determines how corn develops. He says the movement of pollen is a big concern to farmers and seed producers who’re worried about the purity of their corn, especially now with genetically modified corn. Westgate says their initial tests have shown they can pinpoint the time when tassles pop out of the top of corn plants. He says they used tools that scan a broad band of wavelengths above the corn to detect when the tassles pop out. He says they’re trying to refine the process. He says they want to perfect the wavelengths for measurement and see if they can use them at long distances. He says they started about seven feet above the corn and this year are going to try flying higher. Westgate says they hope to be able to eventually use satellite pictures to determine when the pollen is spreading. He says that information could eventually be used in a case where a farmer though his corn was contaminated by pollen from another field. He says timing is a key to determining if there’s cross-pollination, and he says wind and weather also play a big role. Westgate says there are several free satellite pictures available, but researchers need to be able to know they can read the information and use it to determine what’s happening with the pollen.
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