Drone technology finds a place in feed inventory management

Posted on November 29, 2023 in Forage Foundations
By Cody McCary, Vita Plus forage specialist

Measuring and tracking forage inventories is increasingly important as producers seek to make profitable decisions for their farming businesses.  At Vita Plus, our certified remote pilots have successfully implemented drone technology to provide inventory measurements of silage piles.  This new strategy provides a simple and much more accurate means of measuring inventory compared with past techniques.  The following are key reasons why drone technology may be the next step for your forage inventory management.

The first step is collecting global positioning system (GPS) location points throughout the feed storage area to provide measurements of elevation of the feed pad.  Next, hundreds of photos are collected from the drone imagery of the feed storage area to be “stitched” together with the GPS location points, providing a measurement of individual silage pile volumes.  When multiple flights are performed, feed management software is used to measure the volume fed from opened piles between the flights, allowing us to more accurately estimate the final feedout date.  This information also is helpful in calculating the value of feed you have in inventory.

In the past, collecting updated silage pile inventory was often a burden.  Perhaps an employee was assigned to perform this task or an outside consultant provided these estimations.  Now, after the initial drone setup is complete, it generally just takes 10 to 30 minutes for subsequent drone flights to capture updated imagery of the feed storage area.  Results are then provided in an easy-to-read report sent back to the farm in a timely fashion.

Silage piles will continue to grow as the average farm size increases.  A farm’s first silage pile may have been 10 feet tall.  Now, after years of expansion, farm employees are staring up at a 30-foot wall of potentially unstable silage.  With drone technology, it is no longer necessary to have a person run a measuring wheel along the face of the silage pile.  Drone technology keeps employees and consultants away from the open silage face and away from danger.

Consistency of measurement
Limiting human error is essential in providing accurate measurements.  Using GPS location points and drone technology for forage inventory measurements limits risk of error, therefore providing a more consistent product.

For example, a farmer purchased a pile of silage.  The farm’s banker wants to know how much feed is sitting in that pile.  Farm employees and consultants each try to estimate the amount of feed in the silage pile with a measuring wheel.  When all of the estimations are collected, there is a wide range of potential tonnage in that pile.  Why is this so?  Silage piles are irregular in shape.  Often those who measure the piles must make assumptions and judgement calls to complete the math.  They are not relying on definitive measurements, but rather ballpark estimations.  Be more precise with each forage inventory measurement with the combination of GPS location points and drone technology.

Category: Equipment
Forage Foundations
Forage storage and management