Friday, January 17, 2014

Send in the Drones

Imagine yourself driving on a country road in a rural farm community about early June and you stop your car across from a picture perfect field of potatoes. The dark green rows on a brown soil background just takes you back to a safe, secure childhood memory. Then you hear a loud fan sound and a three foot by two foot black helicopter swoops over your car and starts making precise passes over the field. Don’t call the NSA, FAA, or UFO Seekers; it’s just a farmer checking up on the health of his crop. It’s called Drone Field Surveillance and it could be coming to a farm near you.

By using infrared imagery to take pictures of the field, this helicopter can tell a grower if his crop is under stress and where that stress is located long before the plant will look bad. Basically a sick plant puts off a different infrared spectrum color than a healthy plant. This new technology is only new in the method of delivery. Back in the 1980s the same infrared technology was available but it was from satellites far above the earth. The question still remains as it did long ago: Who controls the data and is it cost effective? The only way for a farmer to have complete control is to buy the flying platform, chopper or fixed wing, buy the photography equipment, learn how to work with the FAA and then do it themselves. Then once you have the data, can you really use it? If you have places that are geo-referenced in your field, do you have an applicator that can do site specific applications? So many questions with too few real answers.

I was at a sales meeting this year where the presenter put up a slide of a farmer trying to drink out of a fully pressurized fire hose. He said this is how farmers sometimes feel about data: too much at one time is hard to swallow. I think this is the same with Drone Surveillance Technology. We should learn how to drink in a small amount at first so we don’t choke on the full flow.