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Drones on the Farm

Bowling Green, KY. (August 2, 2019) - The U.N. estimates there will be over 9 billion people living on Earth by 2050. With the growing population and a loss of land capable of sustaining agricultural production, the ag industry has turned to new technology to help solve the growing problem of how to feed the world population.

Drone 300x169Ag producers around the world are discovering how technology can increase yields and help better manage available resources. Take a trip to any of the major agricultural trade shows and you’ll no doubt see behemoth machine that are the workhorses of the industry, and those machines come equipped with guidance, monitoring, and management systems integrating with other technologies to help drive higher yields.

One such technology that seemed like a hobby just a few years ago is the  use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), often referred to as drones. The trade shows now host many companies that are utilizing UAVs combined with cameras, sensors, and software to help producers make better decisions about how to manage their crops and livestock.

Offering a birds-eye view of the land and utilizing various sensors and software, drones provide new kinds of data and imagery, providing nearly instantaneous assessments that directly impact operations. This allows for near-term decision making and, in some cases, real-time management.

Connected Nation’s CONNECTED Community surveys have revealed that more than 50 percent of those who responded to its agriculture survey are either planning to or interested in deploying UAV technology. Combined with farm management, connected sensors, and nutrient technologies, these are some of the Drone 2 300x200most sought-after technologies among rural producers.

The technology can provide valuable information throughout the growing season. The simplest and most common use of the technology is for visual inspections of land, crops, livestock, and infrastructure inspections. Producers can quickly deploy very basic, often built-in tools to create flight plans and immediately review the imagery provided to determine issues that may be plaguing a field, to locate livestock, or to review buildings and silos for any needed repair.

While basic imagery from traditional cameras can provide valuable data, the addition of data collected by special cameras and sensors can offer advanced data that directly impacts how a producer manages operations. A producer can use spectral imaging to determine the health of crops and with advanced integration of data can utilize the imagery to help guide the variable rate application of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides to a field. This is a stark contrast to the past, when application rates would have been determined by the field rather than by tiny sub-segments of a field.

With image prKerr Wes 01 200x300ocessing information and sensors, livestock can be quickly inventoried, saving considerable amounts of time, particularly for large operations.

In some specialty crop applications, multiple imaging passes a week are being used to help create specific growth and health data that creates a record real-time and future decisions. The data is processed and compared to highlight changes or trends crucial to making decisions mid-growth cycle.

As more producers employ UAV-enabled technology and integrate its use into their operations, it’s certain that we’ll see additional innovation. There are already companies looking at how drones or even networks of drones might be used to supplant manual tasks or how they might replace some of the more common machinery that are the staples of rural farming communities.

About the Author: Wes Kerr is the director of Community Solutions. He helps ensure the implementation of Technology Action Plans developed for communities through Connected Nation’s Connected Community Engagement Program (Connectedsm) and works closely with clients and stakeholders to provide solutions that will help them meet their technology goals.