Unmanned Aerial Vehicles – call them UAVs or drones or just remote-controlled airplanes – have been around for decades, but using them for agricultural practices is just really starting to take off.
A good crowd showed up for a session on UAVs sponsored by Farm Industry magazine at the recent National Farm Machinery Show where University of Kentucky (UK) mechanical engineer Dr. Suzanne Smith was one of the presenters. The UK recently announced the formation of an Unmanned Systems Research Consortium (USRC) to advance unmanned aerial, ground and underwater systems, and to explore commercial applications for the technology in Kentucky.
“It’s faculty members from across the university,” says Smith. “From ag, ag engineering, forestry, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science – all working together to advance technologies – and we’re working with companies.”
She and other panelists entertained lots of questions from the audience at the NFMS which indicated a great deal of interest from farmers in using more advanced UAV technology. “It’s very exciting right now,” she said. “In the end it’s really time-saving and efficiency, and that’s what everybody is really looking for.”
Another one of the integrating partners with MapShots’ AgStudio software that showed and explained their product at the MapShots Customer Conference in Atlanta, Ga., was aerial imagery specialists Geovantage.
“[We] offer an aerial imagery solution for agriculture in a rapid response format, providing you with what you want, where you want it, and when you want it,” explained Nick Morrow, Geovantage company operations manager, adding that MapShots’ customers can now receive high-resolution images of their field through AgStudio, which is why he’s at the MapShots conference.
He went on to say he wanted to present use cases so producers can see the potential of the information gathered by Geovantage and shared through AgStudio. Nick also said he expects the partnership with MapShots to grow both companies.
“The integration with the third party applications is what’s really going to change things. Now you actually use the data in the application,” he said, adding that Mapshots’ integration with Geovantage was something that came by popular demand. “Many of our customers use MapShots. They’ve been asking us for years to get the imagery in there faster, and now we should have a very seamless, push-button order.”
With the conclusion of the recent Agronomics Vision 2014 conference and American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers annual meeting in Reno, the group was already looking forward to next year. In the video below, President-Elect Fred Hepler of Cottonwood Management in Oklahoma talks about plans for next year’s conference in Tucson, AZ, October 27 – November 1, 2014.
Hepler says new technology will be a bigger part of next year’s program with an expanded look at unmanned aerial vehicles and their use as a tool for managers, consultants and appraisers.
One of the “high”lights of the recent Conservation Technology Information Center tour in Livingston County, Ill., was a demonstration of using a crop duster to seed ground cover on a field still growing corn. Eric Smith with Pontiac Flying Service explained shortly after one of his pilots (in fact, Scott Petersen, the company’s owner/operations manager) flew over the field and buzzed the tents where the tour attendees were standing that putting down the cover of radishes and oats has become a growing aspect of their business.
“In the aerial application world, you think of fungicide and insecticide work primarily, but we’ve seen an expansion in dry seeding of cover crops and spreading dry fertilizer in a wet year like this year,” Eric said. He went to explain they set up the plane a little differently, using a dry spreader mounted under the hopper and flying a little higher than normal to produce a more uniform seeding pattern over an area. Interest continues to grow for this type of service, with orders already being taken for the fall. “We’re seeing the interest pick up. I know seed supplies were tight last year and I think they’ll be even tighter this year because the demand for this is just exploding.”
Eric went on to point out the advantage of using a plane is that it allows you to get the seed down while the crop is still in the field, giving it a couple of weeks of growth while the cash crop finishes maturing. Plus, he said that root systems on plants such as rye grass have more time to grow and develop root systems.
“We’re excited for our business. It gives us another service we can offer to our customers.”
Aerial Precision Ag is providing producers an easy to fly multirotor platform that captures HD video and photo images for use in precision agriculture operations. Producers no longer have to wait on a third party for crucial updates. The advantage of aerial imagery is giving producers immediate access to a birdseyeview of their fields to determine crop progression, plant health, storm damage, herbicide and insecticide application windows, drainage management, livestock monitoring, water runoff, as well as documented crop production.
The APA UAVs are professional multirotor units that are assembled, calibrated, and tested in the corporate headquarters in Tempe, Arizona and sold from the national sales office in Jackson, Missouri. The durable units have builtin gyros that allow for steady hovering and easy flying for every customer, and all parts are replaceable and very durable. APA multirotors can cover a two mile radius and reach altitudes up to 400 feet. Photos and video are captured on a memory card in the camera and can be transferred directly to a computer or smartphone for immediate review and storage.
Helicopters are just plain cool, especially if you can operate them by remote control. The Aerial Precision Ag booth at AG CONNECT Expo sold out of their new Multi Ready to Fly units! Using mini hand controlled helicopters for precision ag field imaging work got a lot of attention. These four rotor units were also being demonstrated right on the floor.
I visited with Halee Janes, Aerial Precison Ag, a sister company to Cirrus Rotors, to learn more about these new units they were demonstrating. In the video below you can watch Halee explaining the new units and a short demonstration of them.
Halee says the ag industry can really benefit from aerial imagery for things like checking storm damage, crop production, water damage and getting that information very quickly. The footage from the included camera is stored on an SD card which you would remove and plug in to your computer. The starter kits on sale at the show include everything a farmer needs in a box. Included are a Hero GoPro 3 camera with an SD card that holds about an hour of footage. She says you can quickly get an aerial look at 60 acres, as in just a few minutes. These units can withstand about a 10-15 mph wind, travel up to 2 miles and as high as 400 feet. The batteries included give you about 16 minutes of flight time with wind and heat being the main variables. The units are also pretty customizable as long as you consider the weight.
I had my first opportunity to learn about Hemisphere GPS during the National Agricultural Aviation Association convention when I spoke with Greg Guyette, General Manager, Air & Imagery Business. Greg says that their systems are “moving to data management, data movement, real time systems.” It’s becoming all about being able to immediately move a file or access a file to be more efficient as an aerial applicator or farmer. He mentions their purchase of Ag Junction which he says have had the best record of handling data in the past ten years.
The product Greg talked with aerial applicators the most about was their new Satloc G4 aerial guidance system.
The Satloc G4™ is the most complete and advanced aerial guidance system for aerial applicators. Satloc G4 is built with the top-of-the-line processing power of Intel® Dual-Core™ i7 processor and includes Windows® 7 64-bit operating system.
The Satloc G4 features a new 9-inch, 16:9 ratio touchscreen capable of providing faster video graphics as well as the latest in touchscreen technology. Use multi-touch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom, rotate and press and drag to access information. Experience improved connection speeds for downloading job and shape files and prescription maps. The Satloc G4 features video capabilities including Skype™ and Ethernet connectivity for cell-based modems.
Here’s the Precision Laboratories team during the recent National Agricultural Aviation Association convention. On the far left is Jim Reiss, vice president of agricultural chemistries. We talked about what the company offers aerial applicators. He focused on Volare DC™, a recently launched adjuvant technology. Here’s a description from their website.
Volare DC, briefly known as Avianis DC, delivers improved drift control, deposition and coverage when applied through aerial application equipment. Unlike ordinary drift retardants designed for ground application,Volare DC optimizes droplet size and deposition by “right-sizing” spray droplets to resist wind stream shear that ruptures oversized droplets formed from ordinary drift retardants.
“Aerial applicators are under ever increasing pressure to cover more acres while delivering timely and on-target applications of crop protection products,” said Jim Reiss, vice president of Agricultural Chemistries at Precision Laboratories. “Oversized spray droplets can break apart at application speeds above 125 mph, creating smaller droplets that are more susceptible to drift. Volare DC is specifically designed for aerial applicators to optimize droplet size and resist breakup at high speeds.”
You can listen to my interview with Jim to learn more about what they offer aerial applicators here: Interview with Jim Reiss
During last week’s National Agricultural Aviation Association convention I met Clay Rassi, AgSync. We’ve visited with AgSync at the NAAA convention for the last several years. It’s always nice to find out what’s new.
Clay says this year AgSync is focused on letting ag aviators better communicate with the office using real time order processing without having to be distracted by it while flying.
When it comes to the growth of the use of fungicides in aerial application Clay says they’ve been working with BASF to help their customers “get it done” when they have a short window of opportunity.
Of course AgSync doesn’t only work with aerial application but ground application too. Clay says they specialize in helping companies move assets and move product, “the right amount of product to the right place at the right time.” It’s all about logistics!
The 2012 National Agricultural Aviation Association convention and trade show is underway in Savannah, GA. I’m here covering the meeting on AgWired.com. However, I’ll be getting some great interviews to share with you here as well. Let’s start with this one.
Here’s Andrew Moore (left), Executive Director, NAAA and the opening breakfast keynote speaker Story Musgrave. Story’s story was filled with great anecdotes from his career as an astronaut with agricultural roots. He also had a slide show filled with unbelievable photos from space and different periods of his career.
I spoke with Andrew after watching today’s Fire Boss Water Drop demonstration to get an overview of the convention. Andrew says that the NAAA and the convention grow bigger each year. Attendance is up and so is membership. This year’s program features lots of educational opportunities as well as a big trade show which kicks off tomorrow. But it’s not all work. There continues to be plenty of time to network with others in the industry and just plain relax.
Precision Laboratories is pleased to announce that their award-winning and patent-pending Mix Tank app was “highly commended” for “Best Stewardship Program” at the recent AGROW AWARDS gala in London, England.
Precision Laboratories’ smartphone app was recognized for its utility to applicators and was highly commended by the judging panel.
Mix Tank is designed to assist agricultural applicators and farmers with the proper tank mixing sequence to prevent tank mix problems. The available weather integration helps applicators maintain accurate spray logs and assist with documentation and compliance.
Mix Tank is available as a free download on the App Store and Google Play by searching for Mix Tank or Precision Laboratories. Click here for more information on Mix Tank or Precision Laboratories. Precision Laboratories can also be found on Facebook .
A dozen years ago, to me, that headline would have meant using fighter aircraft to put precision munitions on targets to protect troops on the ground. Now, in the world of precision agriculture, it means using aerial application to put down seeds for ground cover crops.
“Typically your crops will [still] be out in the field, and we need to get the seed out there,” said Eric Smith, a pilot with Pontiac Flying Service and a northern Illinois family farmer who talked with Chuck after one of the stops on the Indian Creek Watershed Project Field Tour. His presentation was on the benefit of cover crops, such as tillage radish or rye grass. Smith explained in his part of the country, they are applying the cover crop seed in mid-August to mid-September, when the corn is already pretty tall. The aerial application allows for a nice, even distribution of seed, and the resulting cover crop doesn’t interfere with harvest. In fact, he says some farmers have even told him it actually helps by cutting down on dust.
Because of the advancements in technology, the agriculture industry has come a long way from where we started. The aerial application business is no exception. In this Precision Pays Podcast, brought to you by Ag Leader Technology, we examine how aerial application has become more accurate and more efficient.
Things have changed a lot since Agriflite Services president David Eby began flying. Gone are the days of counting paces to measure fields and using telephone poles as markers. Today’s aerial applicator’s can come within six inches of their target.
Like all of agriculture, aerial applicators are facing potentially onerous regulations that could ground them if they are allowed to continue.
The biggest issue they are dealing with right now is the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit program, which National Agricultural Aviation Association executive director Andrew Moore told me just went into effect on Halloween. “It’s kind of a scary regulation,” said Andrew of the regulation which impacts pesticide application near water. “The problem is that it’s duplicative of everything that already exists to protect the environment in regard to pesticide regulation.”
Moore says the NPDES would require a great deal of paper work on the part of applicators. “FIFRA already regulates the safety of pesticides to water, so this is a completely unnecessary burdensome rule.” In addition, he says they are very considered about lawsuits under the new regulation.
So, NPDES was a big topic at the NAAA convention in Las Vegas last week, where workshops were held and applicators were educated about the current status of the federal rule and where it stands at the state level. Andrew says they are also urging aerial applicators – and really anyone in the agriculture industry – to contact their senators about the issue. “Because we’ve been successful in passing legislation that would exempt pesticide applications over water for FIFRA approved pesticides,” said Moore. The measure has been passed by the House and has gone through the Senate Agriculture Committee. “We believe we have the votes in the Senate but it’s not being brought to the floor for a vote,” he added.
Jason Beissenherz, Syngenta, (not pictured) brought me up to date on the latest from Syngenta during the recent National Agricultural Aviation Association convention.
Jason works out of Grand Island, NE with a focus on the Syngenta fungicide lineup. He says they’re talking about their new QuiltXcel launch. It was in limited release last year and went into full release this year. He says it’s a great fit for aerial applicators.
Quilt Xcel™ is the next evolution of elite systemic fungicides containing the Power of Two™ active ingredients to provide both curative and preventive disease control to optimize Plant Performance™. This powerful new formulation provides long-lasting residual control of a broad-spectrum of diseases to maximize yield and quality.