I guess you could call it our Orville and Wilbur Wright moment! A few weeks ago Prime Meridian took to the air to discover what all the buzz is about regarding “agricultural” UAV’s – the so-called politically correct term for aerial drones.
Our bird of choice is the Ag Eagle – a four-and-half foot wide flying wing that sort of looks like a B2 Bomber on a mission from Whiteman Air Force Base. However, its mission is not to deliver ordnance down the chimney of some Third World dictator’s summer home but rather to discover with a bird’s-eye view what is going on within a growing field.
The benefits we are finding because of that bird’s-eye view have been many and I have a feeling we are just getting started. Our first flights involved taking pictures of wheat fields a week or two before flag leaf emergence. Unfortunately, what we saw wasn’t very pretty but it brought into focus the toll of wet conditions at planting, a terribly cold winter and an usually dry spring.
The value of these images were evident immediately. In some cases nearly 10 to 15 percent of the growing crop had been lost due to “drown-out” conditions at time of planting. In the future we’re going to use these “images” to create prescriptions to make sure we’re not applying topdress N on bare dirt. In addition these images have prompted a call-to-action that come fall after harvest there is a serious water management plan implemented on fields showing such losses.
This is just the beginning of the possibilities we can glean from UAV’s in agriculture. We’re going to be learning about making nutrient prescriptions from infrared images, monitoring things like herbicide and storm damage and getting a jump on pest and weed infestations. Like anything UAV’s are not a magic bullet but a tool – a tool that can spur more timely and even more common sense management decisions. That’s what it is all about.
There is an old saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees. The same thing could be said of a 8 foot tall growing field of corn. Bottom line – your view is limited. It’s amazing how much more you can see from an altitude of 400 feet. Stay tuned. We’ve got a lot more flights to go this season and we’ll be reporting back on just what we find.