Attendees hear of using drones on farms

Managing Editor

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (Feb. 24, 2015) — In many agricultural circles these days, the subject of drones or unmanned aerial vehicles gets a lot of attention, and it was no different at the Virginia Corn and Soybean Conference as a grain farmer and researcher talked about their experiences using drones on the farm.
Bob Waring of Brandon Farms in Tappahannock, Va., and Kenneth Kroeger, an engineer who researched drones at Viriginia Tech and the University of Maryland, started working with drones on Warings’ farm last year and surveying and scouting fields to identify and treat crop issues sooner.
“I have in mind what I want to do on the farm and Kenneth kind of reels me back in,” Waring told a crowded room of farmers. “This is all new technology, we’re all learning as we go.”
Use of drones on farms is limited as the Federal Aviation Administration just proposed rules for commercial use, but Kroeger said using them now will be helpful to farmers once they gain wider use.
“As you get more comfortable operating them, and see how the technology’s working for you, you inherently become more comfortable sending this aircraft on a mission and to do its objective,” Kroeger said.
The ultimate purpose, Waring said, in using drones on the farm is to gain efficiency and make better quicker decisions in the field and he said he expects that to keep improving.
Last year, Waring had to wait until a drone was finished flying over a field before he could download and evaluate images.
He said he hoped soon, holding a pair of high-tech glasses Kroeger had recently shown him, he’ll be able to see what the drone is seeing as it’s still flying.
“I want to get to the point where I’m looking through these, looking at thermal images of hot spots, taking a picture of it, getting the GPS coordinate and walking to the field and see what the problem is,” Waring said.
Since pests and diseases tend to start in pockets in the field, finding and treating those “hot spots” can save time and money.
“We can then spray that little area instead of the whole field,” he said. “Down the road I think that’s coming.”
Waring and Kroeger also talked about Yamaha’s RMAX vehicle which is essentially an unmanned helicopter capable of carrying and spraying products in the field.
It’s in use now in Japan, Kroeger said but still waiting for approval in the United States. Such a device could further speed up a farmer’s reaction to a problem if he or his consultant could follow one drone with another, they said.
Kroeger disused to pros and cons of using fixed wing vehicle versus a rotary wing machine but said one of his goals is to better use the two types in tandem. Fixed wing aircrafts are better suited for surveying fields to get a broad view. Rotary wing aircrafts have ability to zero in on specific areas that the fixed wing plane identified.
“We’re looking to leverage both of these aircrafts together,” Kroeger said.
For the coming crop year, Waring said he wants to try to correlate tissue sample data in wheat and pre-sidedress nitrate test data in corn with aerial imagery to better time his nitrogen applications on the crops.
He also wants to see if he can use the drones to gauge moisture in corn and soybeans at harvest time overlapping aerial imagery with corn stalk nitrate test and moisture data.
“I’m wondering if we can take this and apply it and get the moisture of the corn instead of running around the edge of the field and getting a tank full and figuring out the moisture,” Waring said.