Oklahoma: OSU Releases Crop Progress App

    Oklahoma State University is making available a new app that allows users to quantify green vegetation in a plant’s canopy in the field through photos taken using a smartphone.

    Canopeo, developed jointly by the OSU App Center and students and faculty in the department of plant and soil sciences, is the first mobile application developed from concept to release through the center. It is available for download for both Apple and Android smartphones.

    The free mobile app analyzes the images and provides an accurate measure of percent canopy cover for row crops, grassland, turfgrass or other green vegetation. The information can be used to monitor a crop’s growth or evaluate damage and allows the user to adjust management decisions.

    “Green canopy cover is an excellent indication of crop progress, especially early in the growing season,” said Tyson Ochsner, Sarkeys Distinguished Professor in Applied Soil Physics with OSU’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.

    A few years ago OSU plant and soil sciences Ph.D. student Andres Patrignani began developing a desktop computer program to analyze images of vegetation. His program was an improvement over existing commercial applications that were less accurate and tedious to use. Fellow students and faculty were impressed, including Ochsner – Patrignani’s faculty adviser – who encouraged him to continue to develop his program.

    Though Patrignani’s software outperformed existing programs, it was tied to a desktop computer. A mobile version that could be used in the field was needed, but Patrignani wasn’t convinced farmers or agriculture researchers would find a mobile app useful.

    “We were not sure how anybody would use it,” he said. “Then Dr. Ochsner showed me another app that analyzed nitrogen levels in leaves, and he showed me a scientific paper about quantifying a different variable, the percentage of green canopy cover.”

    The research paper, written by OSU graduate students studying the management of cattle grazed on winter wheat, looked at using the quantity of green canopy as an indicator of when to remove cattle to maintain a good grain yield at harvest.

    “Now this (Canopeo) would be useful for that,” Patrignani said. “If you have 50 percent or more green canopy cover in wheat grazed by cattle then you can still get a good yield from your wheat (according to the research).”

    Not knowing how to develop a mobile application for smartphones, Patrignani turned to the OSU App Center in 2014, which agreed to fund the app’s development and provide student programmers to translate the desktop program code to Apple’s iOS mobile language and graphic designers to develop a user interface.

    The project also received funding from the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, a state agency that is part of DASNR, whose educators and specialists recognized the app’s potential as a tool for managing cattle grazing on winter wheat.

    After several weeks of work by OSU App Center programmers, including overcoming hurdles like image processing time, a mobile version was for Apple devices was ready for beta testing.

    “The first time they tried to process an image it took four or five minutes,” said center manager Jai Rajendran. “They worked on it continuously until they got it down to milliseconds.”

    Patrignani said a key to the app’s value is the data associated with the analyzed images. Canopeo automatically adds geographic coordinates, time and date to each image and users can add personalized notes to photos. Users can also re-analyze images previously stored on their phone or computer.

    Ochsner said farmers, farm co-op employees, crop consultants and representatives of producer groups, who downloaded the app on the spot, were interested in learning more about using Canopeo.

    “Anyone who is interested in how plants are doing in the field will find applications for this,” he said. “That could be people concerned about herbicide damage to their crops. It could be a golf course manager interested in the greenness of their turf. And it’s useful as a way to collect a stream of data for several of our research efforts. At its core it’s a quite basic tool with a lot of potential uses.”

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