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
Data ManagementCDMS Announces SeedIQ Acquisition
June 26, 2017
Crop Data Management Systems, Inc., (CDMS) announces the acquisition of SeedIQ as part of its growth plan to provide complete Read More
Soil Scientists
Data ManagementAccessing USDA Soil Data for Precision Farming
June 13, 2017
Many precision farming websites have integrated the USDA NRCS soil survey database using the USDA Soil Data Access web portal. Read More
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
Data ManagementData as Currency in Ag: We Aren’t There Yet
May 25, 2017
A hot topic in the precision ag revolution is the idea ag data will become a form of currency. Many Read More
Farming iPad
Data ManagementOpinion: ROI or Die in Precision Agriculture
May 12, 2017
The thought of $3.50 corn for the foreseeable future seems pretty disheartening. However, if you look at the precision ag Read More
Trending Articles
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
Farming iPad
Data ManagementOpinion: ROI or Die in Precision Agriculture
May 12, 2017
The thought of $3.50 corn for the foreseeable future seems pretty disheartening. However, if you look at the precision ag Read More
BASF Maglis grower retailer tablet
Data ManagementQ&A: What BASF’s Latest Foray into Precision Ag Means For Growers
May 11, 2017
In late April, BASF agreed to acquire U.S. precision ag player ZedX, a leader in the development of agronomic weather, Read More
Mung beans Australia
InternationalPrecision Ag in a Tough Season in Australia
May 8, 2017
This year’s summer crop season has been a tough one for most growers in Australia. Prolonged periods of high temperatures Read More
Latest News
Data ManagementCDMS Announces SeedIQ Acquisition
June 26, 2017
Crop Data Management Systems, Inc., (CDMS) announces the acquisition of SeedIQ as part of its growth plan to provide complete Read More
Cotton closeup
Imagery/SensingCotton Growth Management with Precision Agriculture
June 20, 2017
A cotton crop presents some important differences to other commodities that are widely produced in Brazil, such as soybean and Read More
Corn Field
Industry NewsCNBC: Inside Amazon’s Whole Foods Takeover
June 20, 2017
Amazon’s takeover of Whole Foods sent the stock of competing grocery chains plummeting. To understand why, you need to know Read More
DronesNavigating a New World: Drone Technology in Agriculture…
June 20, 2017
My first exposure to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) was as a master’s student at Kansas State University. I was researching Read More
Precision Ag Innovation Series
EventsInnovation Series Agenda Zeroes In On Maximizing Key Se…
June 14, 2017
In a recent survey of service providers conducted by PrecisionAg® Professional magazine, more than seven in 10 indicated that variable Read More
Soil Scientists
Data ManagementAccessing USDA Soil Data for Precision Farming
June 13, 2017
Many precision farming websites have integrated the USDA NRCS soil survey database using the USDA Soil Data Access web portal. Read More
GEOSYS In-Season Imagery
Decision Support SoftwareGeosys Announces Imagery and Weather Data Offering
June 13, 2017
Geosys, a provider of agronomic decision support tools, today launched Geosys Labs, a new program that will make its global 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
Decision Support SoftwareMyriad Mobile Raises $1.5 Million to Launch New Ag-Tech…
June 12, 2017
Myriad Mobile, a software technology company focused on mobile and web applications, has raised $1.5 million in a Pre-Series A Read More
center-pivot-irrigation-drop-sprinklers-on-corn
Variable Rate ApplicationVariable-Rate Fertigation Can Be Simple
June 12, 2017
A rule is a rule is a rule, right? Well, not always. Sometimes, rules are meant to be changed. Most 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
Sensors/IoTLeveraging IoT to Improve Data Collection for Agricultu…
June 12, 2017
Between population growth and climate change, farms of all sizes are being challenged to increase yields. Internet of Things (IoT) Read More
DronesAg Drone Update: The Hunt for 1,000 (OPINION)
June 10, 2017
Having obtained my FAA Part 107 Commercial Drone Operators license back in September of last year, I’ve spent the past Read More
Industry NewsMergers & Acquisitions: Land O’Lakes Tosses E…
June 9, 2017
Land O’Lakes has made a minority equity investment in EFC Systems, an ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and precision solution provider Read More
Mixmate-featured-image
Decision Support SoftwareHandy Software, Hardware for the Field
June 7, 2017
More than two decades ago, Iowa grower Doug Applegate wished for a “little portable chemical blending system” that could easily Read More
Decision Support SoftwareHarnessing A Team To Build Your Own Software
June 7, 2017
What’s a powerhouse retail network to do when it can’t find a software system to meet incredibly diverse needs? Build Read More
Tim Ferrell Marshall County Co-op
Decision Support SoftwareWhen It’s Time To Switch Software
June 7, 2017
No one in their right mind wants to change software. That’s the opinion of Tim Ferrell, manager of Marshall County Read More
PA Special Report Enterprise
Decision Support SoftwareSpecial Report: Enterprise Management Systems
June 7, 2017
A functional and stable software system can allow a retail operation to run at maximum efficiency, build customer loyalty and Read More