Although the agricultural applications for drone technology are rapidly increasing, the use of drones in over area fields hasn’t quite taken off.
Matt Scott, a drone operator and owner of Drone Maxx, said that while more producers are taking advantage of the tech, it has been a slow process.
“Around this area, it is not really up and running like you’d think,” Scott said.
Part of the reason is that some major companies, like Pioneer, have satellite systems that can monitor crops. However, sometimes a closer look is required.
“If they need more accuracy to generate a map, that’s where the drone comes in,” he said.
The primary reason Scott started his business was to do agricultural mapping for local producers. This involves flying a drone at a certain altitude in a grid pattern across a field. As it flies, it takes photos.
“Each photo is geotagged, which means it has coordinates for that particular spot,” said Scott.
The goal is to monitor the health and stress levels of crops. Once the flight is over, the data and images are processed. Scott runs a set of algorithms that flag areas of the field that may have issues.
“I can’t tell you why the crop is stressed, but I can tell you where and how much, so you know where to look,” said Scott.
He can then pass on the data to producers so they can check on their field. The hope is that small problems can be fixed before they become big — and more expensive — problems.
“I give the farmer the exact coordinates and they can put them in their cell phone,” Scott said.
Some producers head to the fields themselves, others hand the information off to an agronomist.
“Agronomists walk the field and there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said. “I can fly over a field in 20 minutes and tell them were to look though.”
In addition to crop mapping, Scott is able to use drones to map elevation. He uses aerial imaging to identify high and low spots on land so producers can make informed decisions about where they need to move soil.
“I can also map different soil compositions,” Scott said. “When you’re flying over bare dirt, you can see where every ditch, every creek, every pipeline is on that property. It sticks out like a sore thumb.”
Additionally, drones can be used to accurately measure acres that have been damaged by fire, natural disasters or livestock for insurance claims.
More applications for drone technology is looming on the horizon, Scott said, including the potential of chemical application, which could increase yields and decrease costs.
“You put the chemicals on the drone and apply it to just the spot that needs done,” he said. “By using the maps I generate, they can change the rates as they go through the field. They get the maximum benefit from the chemicals that way.”
Although the use of drones in agriculture is on the uptick, operators like Scott may face challenges as the Federal Aviation Administration tightens up regulations.
One proposal would require that drones be connected to a cellular network in order to fly. The idea is that it would be easier for the FAA to identify and track the locations of drones that are in the air.
Drones that aren’t connected, won’t take off.
“That’s going to be a problem for me,” said Scott. “A lot of places I do crop maps don’t have a cell signal.”