UAVs: Where’s The Value?

From the rolling fields that dominate the Illinois countryside to the striking Flatiron sandstone formations that seemingly tower over Boulder, CO, there is serious R & D going on right now involving unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and establishing realistic expectations for farming’s flying robots.

“Generically speaking, this is a new tool being applied to agriculture, so we are still learning the best way to actually use them in the field and where return-on-investment is going to come from,” says Paul Hoff, president, Agribotix. “This is our first season in operation, and I think we have some really good guesses that are starting to be proven correct.”

As things stand currently, Hoff shares that his Boulder-based startup has confirmed two areas of current agronomic capabilities.

“One is identifying potential issues up to two to three weeks prior to when you would typically see them pop up in a visual crop inspection,” he says. “Secondly, it’s one of the first low-cost platforms where you can get a good temporal image of a field throughout the evolution of a crop. You get this interactive view of how your fields are developing over time, and you see things that just weren’t available before or would be prohibitively expensive to uncover using manned aircraft.”

Additionally, Hoff envisions being able to variable-rate various crop inputs, as well as compress mountains of data into shockingly accurate yield estimates much earlier than current capabilities allow, although he cautions these competencies are “not quite there yet.”

Meanwhile Agribotix, looking to make major hay as a UAS service provider once FAA begins regulating the technology come late 2015 or early 2016, is currently serving around 100,000 acres of both specialty and row crops for its inaugural season.

“This is a very big data collection season for us to really narrow down for each of the crop types: ‘What is the ROI and what are the steps that, by using the UAV, we can remove from the agronomist or crop consultant’s workload?’” says Hoff.

Once all the value-added questions sort out, the next step for still-interested crop consultants is to decide whether to hire a third-party service provider like Agribotix or Vision Services Group (VSG) Unmanned, Inc., for their UAS needs, or whether they are comfortable enough to take on the technology without a safety net.

Hoff for one is naturally hoping it’s the latter. “By offering on a lease basis, we believe it pulls down some of the barriers to UAV ownership,” he says. “Crop consultants are concerned with being locked into one platform as other new, possibly more-advanced products emerge, and they’re asking us: ‘Well what happens if I crash my drone?’ and ‘Do I have to become a drone expert to use it effectively?’

“We’re just trying to extract all of the difficulties and complexities from owning a drone and processing the data; when you look at our service’s average cost against what it costs to purchase and maintain a UAS, we think it just makes more sense to do it this way.”

Illini Research

Back in The Land Of Lincoln, the University of Illinois-Extension is experimenting with UAVs on research plots located at the university’s South Farms.

Headed up by crop sciences educator Dennis Bowman, the Illini are probing for some of the same solutions that their private sector counterparts in Colorado are looking for – just what will these UAVs be able to accomplish in the Corn Belt?

Some of the most promising findings of Bowman and his team include a study on monitoring plants undergoing post emergence herbicide application for stress, as well as using multispectral data to pinpoint anomalies further along into the growing season.

“Walking through tasselling corn in the heat of summer is not a pleasant task,” Bowman, a former crop consultant, said in a recent interview. “The odds of actually getting to the far end of that field on foot to see what is going on are pretty slim.”

Notable work is also being done with multispectral sensor-equipped UAVs in the fight against resistant weeds, chiefly Palmer amaranth, which began invading Illinois in 2001 and has steadily increased its foothold by migrating north.

“Before the soybean rows close, or if we get a different spectrum response from some of these weeds as they break through the canopy, we may see some of those weeds show up in the imagery as well to help identify possible hot spots,” Bowman said.

With agriculture being consistently cited as a top application for emerging UAV technology, Bowman foresees a future where UAVs become as commonplace on the farm as the dusty, old coffee makers you see in barns throughout the Midwest.

“It doesn’t seem all that far fetched to think that not too far in the future a farmer will get up in the morning, hit a button and launch a couple drones that fly out over his fields and collect imagery that is wirelessly transferred to his office,” concluded Bowman. “And one of the first things he could do is sit down and scan his fields to see if anything needs his attention.”

Leave a Reply

Data Management Stories
John Deere Headquarters Reuters Eric Thayer
Data ManagementAnother Integration: Deere, Granular Link Up
July 26, 2017
John Deere and Granular announced today a product development and co-marketing agreement that gives John Deere customers more tools to Read More
CNH-and-Trimble-Data-Sharing_1
Data ManagementTrimble, CNH Collaborate on Data Sharing Connectivity
July 26, 2017
Trimble and CNH Industrial, a global leader in agricultural equipment, have announced they are enabling wireless connectivity between Trimble Ag Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementProspera Raises $15 Million to Transform Farms with Data
July 25, 2017
Digital farming company Prospera has announced a $15 million Series B funding round. Qualcomm Ventures, the investment arm of Qualcomm Read More
Data ManagementEFC Announces FieldAlytics, Adapt-N Expanded Integration
July 17, 2017
EFC Systems is pleased to announce an expanded integration between its FieldAlytics product and Agronomic Technology Corp’s Adapt-N nitrogen recommendations Read More
Trending Articles
Resistant-weeds-in-Brazil
InternationalUsing Precision Agriculture to Control Herbicide-Resistant Weeds in Brazil
July 24, 2017
The occurrence of weeds in agricultural fields of grain and fiber production has caused losses to farmers for a long Read More
Yield Data Image
Data ManagementYield Data: More Than a Pretty Picture
July 13, 2017
It is mid-July, which, for the Australian cotton industry, means that picking is still going on for some growers. A Read More
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
ProfessionalsPatience Needed: Lessons for Getting New Tech onto the Farm
July 6, 2017
A popular joke within the tech industry was trotted out at GAI AgTech Week in Boston, MA, speaking volumes about Read More
PrecisionAg Vision Conference
EventsPrecisionAg® Vision Conference: Focused on the Future
June 13, 2017
PrecisionAg® is pleased to announce the return of its PrecisionAg Vision Conference, October 10-12, 2017. Based on overwhelmingly positive response Read More
Gavin Newsom Forbes AgTech-Summit
ProfessionalsAgTech Summit Aiming High for Modern Farming Solutions
June 12, 2017
THRIVE AgTech, in partnership with SVG Partners and Forbes, is hosting the third annual Forbes AgTech Summit June 28-29 in Read More
Quantix Drone Farmer
DronesTop 10 Most Intriguing Technologies in Agriculture
June 3, 2017
This may be a bit of stating the obvious here, but we’ll throw it out there anyways: as much as Read More
Latest News
Premier-Crop-Systems-Enhanced-Learning-Blocks
UncategorizedSyngenta Invests in Premier Crop Systems’ Enhanced Lear…
July 27, 2017
Long an industry leader in developing digital tools that enable growers and their advisors to make sound agronomic decisions, Premier Read More
John Deere Headquarters Reuters Eric Thayer
Data ManagementAnother Integration: Deere, Granular Link Up
July 26, 2017
John Deere and Granular announced today a product development and co-marketing agreement that gives John Deere customers more tools to Read More
Senet Network
Sensors/IoTSenet, Sensoterra to Deliver Real-Time Soil Moisture Mo…
July 26, 2017
Senet, a provider of global connectivity and network management for the Internet of Things, and Sensoterra BV, a provider of Read More
Systems ManagementAGCO to Acquire Precision Planting
July 26, 2017
AGCO and The Climate Corp. announced today that a definitive agreement has been signed for AGCO to acquire the Precision Read More
CNH-and-Trimble-Data-Sharing_1
Data ManagementTrimble, CNH Collaborate on Data Sharing Connectivity
July 26, 2017
Trimble and CNH Industrial, a global leader in agricultural equipment, have announced they are enabling wireless connectivity between Trimble Ag Read More
Imagery/SensingEFC Systems Announces Imagery Delivery Integration with…
July 25, 2017
EFC Systems, Inc. has announced a new integration between its FieldAlytics product and Geosys Bridge API for direct delivery of Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementProspera Raises $15 Million to Transform Farms with Dat…
July 25, 2017
Digital farming company Prospera has announced a $15 million Series B funding round. Qualcomm Ventures, the investment arm of Qualcomm Read More
Resistant-weeds-in-Brazil
InternationalUsing Precision Agriculture to Control Herbicide-Resist…
July 24, 2017
The occurrence of weeds in agricultural fields of grain and fiber production has caused losses to farmers for a long Read More
John-Deere-and-Farm-Dog
Grower Services & SolutionsFarm Dog Strengthens its Integration with John Deere Op…
July 24, 2017
Farm Dog, the leading pest and disease management platform for growers and agronomists, has completed the second stage of its Read More
Industry NewsLindsay Corp. Names Dow’s Timothy Hassinger New C…
July 19, 2017
Lindsay Corp. has  announced the appointment of Timothy Hassinger as president and CEO and a member of its board of Read More
InfoAg 2015
Events2017 Awards of Excellence Winners Announced
July 18, 2017
PrecisionAg Institute is pleased to announce its Awards of Excellence winners for 2017. Honorees of this year’s prestigious award are Read More
Interseeding Cover Crops
ProfessionalsA 3-Step Approach to Interseeding Cover Crops
July 18, 2017
As growers continue to search for opportunities to create healthier soils and increase yields, more trusted advisors and farmers are Read More
Rod Weimer and Paul Schrimpf
Excellence AwardsPast Recipients Of The PrecisionAg Awards Of Excellence
July 18, 2017
Since 2007, the PrecisionAg Insititute has sponsored the annual Awards of Excellence program. Here's a list of the past winners. Read More
Data ManagementEFC Announces FieldAlytics, Adapt-N Expanded Integratio…
July 17, 2017
EFC Systems is pleased to announce an expanded integration between its FieldAlytics product and Agronomic Technology Corp’s Adapt-N nitrogen recommendations Read More
Data ManagementOpinion: Benchmarking in Precision Agriculture is Big S…
July 17, 2017
Benchmarking has become a buzzword in precision agriculture recently and before we get too excited with all of the profound Read More
Yield Data Image
Data ManagementYield Data: More Than a Pretty Picture
July 13, 2017
It is mid-July, which, for the Australian cotton industry, means that picking is still going on for some growers. A Read More
Industry NewsQuick Rewind: Ohio Dealer Talks Deere-Precision Plantin…
July 12, 2017
A few weeks ago I took a quick trip south down I-71 to Central Ohio (for you non-Buckeyes, I-71 runs Read More
DronesSentera Launches Versatile Quad Sensor for Drones
July 12, 2017
Fully Customizable Filters on Sentera Quad Sensor Allow for Unique Crop Health Detection Capabilities Sentera introduces the latest update to Read More