The use of drones in agriculture has been growing in popularity for some time. Many growers, big and small, have tried using drones for scouting their fields. Some even source professional drone operators to fly their fields. However, just flying a drone without reaping its full benefit is like placing an ice cold beer as a doorstop to let in the summer breeze.
Drones are powerful tools. When combined with the right technology, they deliver far more than just imagery. If you are paying for imagery and spending time racking your brains to figure out what you’re looking at, you can rest assured that you are wasting your time and money. Unless, you are aiming for a career change. With today’s technology-based services, you should be spending your precious time making critical decisions for your customers based on clear insights and reports generated by your service provider.
Here are the three most important things you should expect from drone scouting:
1) High resolution imagery, of course
In scouting, resolution is information. Sharp and high resolution crop images are the closest alternative to actually standing in the middle of the field. When you look at a submillimeter resolution image, where every pixel in the image represents 0.3mm of a leaf, you are actually getting the equivalent of standing right near that leaf in person. A trained eye will be able to turn that image into insights, largely due to the amount of detail it provides. But while imagery is key, that alone will not deliver the insights you need for confident decision making.
Imagine sitting at your computer to analyze 100 images like the one below. You are guaranteed to either go blind or go crazy by the time you get to the 10th image. Yes, even in Corona times, this is not for the faint of heart.
Now let’s say you know what you’re looking for – diseases and insects, both of which can be found in this image. Does it get any easier?
While this image is of the highest resolution available in agriculture today, without the proper tools for analysis, it becomes almost a nuisance to generate an ROI from it.
2) Imagery analytics
The technology used to generate these submillimeter images is just a means to an end. If you are going to use drones for scouting your customers’ fields, you want to make sure that you are also getting the backend of the technology that powers it. This refers to the algorithms that analyze the images and cross reference them with millions of historical crop threat occurrences. This deep learning technology is able to detect a single insect on a leaf, identify its species and provide an output of the overall severity of this issue across the entire field, by acres or percentages.
Diagnosis is the true power that technology brings to the field. Through quick and full diagnosis of the issues in the field, crop consultants are able to make quick and efficient decisions regarding the appropriate treatment and its application, all in a matter of minutes.
In case you’re still looking for the insect in the image above, here’s a close-up with the tagged detections. These two issues were detected by the Taranis Agrobrain for a customer in Ohio. He ended up saving $3,678, 8.5% of his yield, thanks to this detection.
3) Time is money
Nature waits for no one and time is of the essence when it comes to decision making during the season. This is where drone scouting delivers yet another unique advantage when implemented properly. Well-configured drone scouting hardware will enable you to scout your fields at a rate of 1000 acres per hour. Drone scouting service providers that specialize in crops will equip you with the tools for generating a precise flight plan to be executed seamlessly by the drone from start to finish with minimal human intervention. For this you will want to make sure that your drone hardware is able to generate the sharp imagery we discussed earlier, while maintaining its consistent, high-speed motion over the fields.
In the example above, we detected some random early signs of Frogeye throughout the field. Our early detection saved their customer a short term yield of $35/acre. If the issue would have been detected just 2 weeks later, the damage would have been much more severe.
The golden triangle – summary
The combination of all three elements – speed, resolution and analytics is as essential as the wheels on a planter. Without any one of these, you will not be gaining the full benefit from your remote scouting service. Make sure you are getting an end-to-end reporting service that enables agronomists to make the right decisions at the right time to maximize yield and minimize costs.
As we all try to maintain a sense of normalcy, the world around us is quickly changing. “The way things have always been done” is being challenged across so many industries and facets of life. It is clear that a resilient business today is one that can most easily adapt to the new reality. In the farming industry, no one can afford to be left behind.