Friday, May 3, 2013

Crop Scouting Drones

"In the not-so-distant future, farmers wanting to scout fields for diseases and pests, spot spray for weeds or obtain 3-D maps of their farm ground will be turning to tiny autonomous helicopters or planes to do the job."


No-Till Farmer just released an interesting article on the future of drones or small aircraft flying over our fields.  Technology is available now to take about every image of crops known to man and even spray or seed cover crops!

I got a tiny bit interested last summer when Donald Effren from North Carolina called me to see if I would be interested in one.  I've not taken the time to pursue this venture or adventure in this point in my career but a sharp person could make a living of flying these ultra light ultra small aircraft over farmers fields to help them do the chore of scouting and even seed or spray.

In any new technology, the cost of doing it, that is the labor and investment and training must provide results worth that investment.  Human field scouts get a dollar to several dollars per acre to walk fields, report what they find and make recommendations.  The information is as valuable as the knowledge of the scout and the amount of potential damage avoided.

"In the future, UAVs could detect, monitor and forecast the spread of fungus-like organisms like Phytophthora or Fusarium that put crops at risk. Since 2008, several researchers and students at Virginia Tech University have been deploying UAVs for “aerobiological sampling” at the university’s 3,200-acre Kentland Farm near Blacksburg, Va."

This is just one small example what these craft could do for farmers.  The potential is huge.  The advantage I see is quickly obtained information from a personal fly over a field I can't see from ground level as a scout.

Do you see one of these craft flying your fields in the future?

Ed




4 comments:

  1. They will also be used to check for violations with your EQUIP contract, if you are loading seed from the grain bin into your planter, if you have any runoff issues, measure how much dust you make, and document what ever stupid mistake you made that could possibly result in a fine.
    Not that those sorts of things will ever happen...I'm just saying...

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  2. 25 years ago I was selling Matrox video cards to a university science lab that was already analyzing camera pictures to detect the progression of drought and pathogens. The only change is that the cameras of old used to be static, not flying, and linked to a whole computer, no SD card or affordable Internet in the wild at the time. They were analyzing the health of the mountain flora, not crops, but it was the same principle.

    We'll still need human scouts to take samples, but detection from drones has a place in large farms. A static camera on a pole would be much more efficient in many cases. Even if it's faster to pilot a drone than to walk fields, you still need to take the drone there and you have only an instant snapshot of your field, as opposed to seeing them grow or fail live with a static camera. And a miniature drone is too much of a temptation for a hunter!

    There are already many cheap DIY weather stations powered by a solar panel and an Arduino or Raspberry Pi miniature PC that could accommodate such a camera, a few soil moisture sensors, etc. An Arduino Uno miniature computer starts at $15. It's hard to justify the cost of a UAV unless you pay it back by selling all the pictures of nude sunbathing you can take... ;)

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  3. That is very promising. It’s nice to see that drones can also have a positive use. Farming is of course very hard, especially when the farmer has a wide set of fields that he has to manage and he is aging. Having an aerial drone would prove really useful.

    Matt Wynan @ IDTUS

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