Aerial imagery as a scouting tool in cropping systems – Scott Rowntree, Pioneer
Agriculture has seen many technological advancements in recent years that have helped farmers become more efficient, productive and profitable. In the cropping world, new planter seed metering systems, row-by-row variety mapping, and extremely accurate yield monitoring tools have helped growers raise higher yielding crops and document yields by variety, field, and even soil type.
One area of recent interest among growers and agronomists is aerial imagery, both from satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), commonly known as drones. Both technologies provide an “eye in the sky” and help growers monitor crop growth and development throughout the growing season. UAVs and satellite imaging have some similarities, but they also have many differences that help meet different objectives to assist growers in the field.
Because of their relatively affordable price, UAVs have become a frequently used tool in the field among agronomists, seed sales representatives and many growers across the country. UAVs allow users to drive to a field of interest and, within minutes, launch the UAV and fly over an entire field while recording video and/or taking photographs of the crop below. One of the primary benefits of UAVs is that their use allows the pilot to fly just above the crop canopy with high resolution images to identify areas of suppressed crop growth, excessive moisture, or disease infestation without spending significant time walking through fields scouting with boots on the ground. After identification of problem areas in the sky, a UAV user can quickly walk to the targeted area and further diagnose issues with the crop, if necessary. UAVs also allow users to easily reach difficult to access acres that are less often scouted on the ground. UAVs do require registration with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the operator must have his or her Part 107 pilot’s license, and the pilot must adhere to a specific set of rules when operating the drone.
Although satellite imagery lacks the ability to provide images just above the crop canopy for immediate identification of problems, it does allow users to digitally scout hundreds or thousands of acres within a few minutes remotely from their home or office. Satellite imaging services are generally subscription-based and often available through seed providers or other agricultural companies to provide data management services to growers for an affordable price. Raw satellite images provide relatively little value to users directly, however, once processed by software into useable information, such as with the Crop Health Index tool available through Pioneer’s Encirca® digital platform, growers can monitor their crop condition on a mobile device or computer very quickly. Growers can then determine problem areas or areas of declining crop health, which may require more localized, on-the-ground field scouting efforts.
Aerial imagery cannot replace field scouting efforts, but rather it can help growers become more efficient in the time they spend walking fields and identifying potential issues with their crop much more rapidly.
Technology and data management