Drones continue to provide opportunities to improve management of crops as they become more mainstream and less of a novelty in agriculture.
Advancements in the technology — such as smaller frame and longer battery life — have made them more useful for some farmers and consultants.
Ryan Hassebrook, CEO and president of ServiTech, a company that provides crop consulting and ag lab services, says drones help with crop imaging, which can be used to update crop management zones and help make decisions.
“We are trying to use imaging to enhance the eyes and ears of our agronomists in the field,” he says.
Hassebrook says the crop imaging helps with analysis, whether it shows positive or negative aspects of the field.
“Using imagery so we can create better management zones,” he says. “Variable rate fertility, so they can put the right nutrients in the right place, and variable rate seeding.”
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Kent Shannon, plant sciences and technology professor for the University of Missouri, says crop scouting is the top way agriculture is using drones.
“I think getting up in the air and doing some basic scouting from a drone that’s got a camera on it is probably the No. 1 way,” he says.
Shannon says drones can help assess stand counts and weather damage.
With high-resolution cameras, Hassebrook says drones technology has stepped up.
“Drone imaging has helped us take that to the next level,” he says.
Hassebrook says the images collected from above can help with replant decisions and provide more precise information about disease outbreaks. It can also help with decisions for the next year’s crop.
“How do we use imagery and what we learned this year to do a better job next year?” he says.
Shannon says adoption of drone use has been increasing, and if images are collected early enough, they can provide good information for replacement decisions. The drones continue to improve.
“There’s a little bit of advancement in camera resolution,” he says. “The size of the drone is getting smaller with the same capabilities. That helps on battery life.”
The goal with drones and modern ag technology is to make agriculture more precise and more efficient, Hassebrook says, which also helps with many consumers’ desire for sustainability in what they buy.
He says agriculture has long embraced technology, and the potential of drones as well, even as the rate of adoption varies.
“There’s early adopters and kind of the wait-and-see, and some that will not change,” Hassebrook says.
He adds that ServiTech’s customers seem willing to try using drones and other data collection and technology.
“I think a lot of growers are willing to try new management styles in their fields,” Hassebrook says.
Looking forward, he expects to see continued growth in variable rate inputs. He says he could see increased targeting of certain areas, including with herbicide applications.
Shannon says he has flown drones several times to assess MU strip trial crop research plots.
“They can tell you a lot of things,” he says. “They are very useful to us.”
The drone images help make nitrogen sidedress decisions, he says.
“I definitely think they’re a tool in the toolbox,” Shannon says.
He says drone uses continue to grow, including sprayer and fungicide applications. He also says the industry is continuing to work to find out how to best use imaging collected by drones.
“I think there’s still a lot of things that we can learn,” Shannon says.