The value of precision production technologies, such as MapShots AgStudio, Climate FieldView and John Deere Operations Center, is helping farmers map yield, track soil variations and make other more-informed management decisions. In-field observations and satellites positioned high above Earth are both vital, but farmers and agronomists are increasingly getting another perspective thanks to drones. A camera mounted on a drone provides an eye on fields that is both detailed and in real time.
Drones are becoming easier to operate. Many come equipped with high-tech infrared cameras, GPS navigation, programmable controllers and automated flight planning. Cameras that come with most drones are very good, but camera upgrades are available for more in-depth detail.
Software companies have developed proprietary software to get the most out of a drone. Drone Deploy, for example, is specifically for agriculture, including the ability to stitch maps together, view an entire field or zoom in for an accuracy to within a few centimeters. Some software can quickly process data so fast that farmers can analyze maps from an iPad while still in the field.
The most common uses for drones include:
- Scouting. Get a wider look at developing crops or images of field areas for signs of nutrient deficiency; poor drainage; downed corn; pest and insect infestations; and more.
- Stand counts. Decide whether to replant if stand counts are below desired planting populations.
- Soil and field analysis. Use 3D maps to identify possible soil quality issues in areas of a field, areas of compromised nutrient availability or soil dead zones.
- Crop mapping and surveying. Real-time footage with time-based animation can illuminate progression throughout the crop life and maturity cycle.
- Test plot/hybrid evaluation. Evaluate local test plots for stand count, germination, early season vigor and crop health throughout the season. Pairing these analyses with in-plot evaluations and final yield results helps agronomists better position hybrids on the farm.
Considering investing in a drone?
Start by deciding your intended uses. Because many retailers have drones, consider using their equipment before investing in your own if yours might be underutilized. Your local retailer and seed agronomist also can share their experience and offer advice. Finally, be aware that the drone, software and the tablet/phone you will use must all be compatible. Best results may require upgrading to a newer tablet or drone.