Making it Pay: Applying Aerial Imagery at the Ground Level

There is the old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. But the question that many growers are asking is…what is the value of in-season aerial crop imagery?

Up until now the answer probably would have been – “not much”. Historically, many factors have diminished the value of “in-season” field portraits in the eyes of growers.   Either it wasn’t timely enough as some past services had turnaround times of over 2 weeks. Then, there was the issue of “grainy” images as the resolution on some “satellite” or even “flown” products was less than adequate. Then there was the issue of bang for your buck – in other words was the product worth it?  Probably not, if it didn’t arrive on time and/or even if it did it had the clarity of an out-of-focus eye-chart.


All that being said there is another saying that says don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. The fact is, there is tremendous value in timely, high-resolution aerial imagery that can have an immediate positive affect on a growing crop and future crop-year management decisions. And the good news for growers is today such services are much more timely and the technology has improved greatly.

Seeing the present value in this for its clients, Prime Meridian has teamed with Bill Stocks of Aerial Imagery Solutions of Chadwick, IL to add aerial imagery as an advanced agronomic service for its agri-retail partners and producers.


The goal is to provide real “information” –  not just images back to agronomists and growers so that they still have time to “take action” while the crop can still benefit.

For example, in-season aerial imagery can address such issues as:

  • Nitrogen deficiency
  • Fertilizer and herbicide misapplication
  • Weed and insect infestations
  • Pivot irrigation equipment or sprinkler malfunctions

In addition to the “real-time” management benefits listed above, there is an agronomic and economic bonus that comes by taking a “rear-view mirror” management approach to the data. By comparing geo-referenced imagery data such as NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) to ground truth data like GPS yield, variety and population information there is a lot one can learn from a bird’s eye view.  Some of the types of post-harvest data analysis possibilities include: 

  • Correlation of image NDVI values to actual yield map values
  • Comparison of image NDVI values to actual nitrogen rates
  • Evaluating NDVI value differences between different varieties
  • Looking for correspondence between seeding population rates and NDVI values
  • Possible relationship between NDVI to actual field topo evaluation values
  • Comparison of soil EC readings to NDVI values

And the list goes on… As you can see from the above possibilities aerial imagery can produce more than just a “pretty picture”.  It is a real-time and rear-view mirror management tool that can yield real results when applied properly. To discover more about Prime Meridian’s new aerial imagery offerings or if you’re ready to schedule your “farm’s” portrait, contact GIS specialist Justin Ogle at 417-667-4471 or via email at