Saturday, June 21, 2014

Eyes in the Sky

This is Stephanie and I am happy to once again be a guest blogger. Earlier last week Marketing Department Manager Albert and I took a field trip to Indiana to check out some of the new tools available in the agriculture industry. We attended Successful Farming’s Tools of the Future Tour which was held at the Purdue University Beck Agricultural Center in Lafayette, Indiana.  At this event, a variety of companies showed off some of the newest technologies geared towards helping today's farmers.  Some of the things we saw were specialty designed equipment tires to reduce soil compaction, wearable computers and micro climate sensors. However the main reason for our trip was to check out the latest UAV/Drone technologies.  Two companies were there showing off their hexacopter style drones.  Here is a close-up of one from Precision Drone.

The other company was Crop Copter and they were actually flying one around while we were there.  Here it is before it takes off.
Here it flies over our heads and a over corn field.  (Be careful what you are doing or hiding in fields from now on.) 
In talking with these two companies, we learned a lot about many of the cool things that drones can do. Their main market tactic for farmers is that they can scout a lot of acres in a short period of time from the air and have documented pictures.  As a researcher I got really excited about all the ideas on ways we could use one of these to scout at the NCRS. Our current (and past) interns would be happy to hear that there is a seed research company out there that uses these to do stand counts. They just program the drone to fly the plot area and it takes pictures or video of the crop close enough that you can count all plants to get the total established stand. We could also use these to help us see and record deer and raccoon damage that we have to deal with each season.  More importantly we could monitor changes in plant health or in fertilizer treatments differences with the Normalized Differential Vegetation Index (NDVI) images. This is what devices like the Greenseeker use for variable rate nitrogen applications in corn and wheat.  And the nice thing is they are all taken while recording the GPS location.  So these images and data can be put into our GPS software and maps can be overlaid with our planting treatment maps to pinpoint locations of concern.

I am going to continue to research the possibilities of what drone technologies could provide for our NCRS test plots, and ultimately to growers.  Maybe sometime this summer we will have a hexacopter test drive.  So stay tuned.