In FarmerIron I'm usually covering the industry and the equipment you use on the farm, but these days I'm looking up. A few weeks ago I was at the Precision Aerial Ag Show, and I got and eyefull of new ways to capture on-farm data. And it gives you plenty to think about.
There’s solid interest in this technology judging by the focused attendance at this event. Farmers were on hand from the moment the gates opened until the doors were closed. And the demonstration of a range of these vehicles in the sky was an added attraction. It was one of the first shows where a range of these precision information gathering tools could be seen in the air.
There are benefits to both kinds of these machines. The multi-rotor "coptor" type machines hover well for capturing imagery and can also be tasked with covering many acres as part of an information-gathering task. They also offer other task-oriented benefits. For example, irrigators can check pivots when corn is tall, which can boost yields. Many are familiar with that yield map that shows the streaks where a sprinkler head died during the season and you couldn’t see it.
The fixed-wing machines can cover a lot of territory very quickly providing you full-field views of in-season crops faster than ever. They fly a prescribed path built from your GPS field maps and the imagery collected can be used for a range of management tasks, including monitoring plant health and potential yield.
There are some that ask if the UAV will eventually replace the crop consultant. Chances are the answer is ‘no’ though I never say never when it comes to technology. However, these machines – WHEN consultants can finally use them with customers – will offer the ability for a single consultant to cover a lot more acres much more efficiently. On-the-ground scouting can be contained to very well-defined problem areas in a field. Consider it a kind of consultant ‘triage’ where the images collected from a UAV help prioritize which fields need attention first.
It’s a changing way to think about information, and these machines may be useful for far more than image gathering in the future. For more than 20 years, Japanese rice farmers have sprayed using UAV technology. It allows them to farm more efficiently, in eliminates compaction and offers other benefits too. That’s an evolution in farm equipment that could take a little more time to develop, but at least one manufacturer is looking at the idea.
Where the UAV will go remains to be seen, but as with all things technological in ag, it’s an interesting time.