Drones offer new vantage points for precision agriculture
By Ryan Ridley
Farms.com Business Writer
Ontario producers and crop advisors came to Bayer CropScience’s Research Farm in Ennotville on July 11, to see new developments and products first-hand at the 2018 Dead Weeds Tour.
Precision agriculture technology in the farming community has expanded in recent years, and Bayer is taking a leadership position. A recent partnership with Precision Silver has enabled Bayer to develop strategies to make farming more controlled and accurate with the use of drones.
“There are two objectives of this partnership: to increase efficiencies and increase standardization or consistency of seed treatment trials in soybeans,” explained Scott Ditschun, agronomic development representative at Bayer.
Scott Ditschun, agronomic development representative at Bayer stands with their DJI S1000 drone at the 2018 Dead Weeds Tour.
Decreased field time leads to increased efficiency
“Take a one-acre trial with two workers, for example. It would take them over two hours just to do stand counts. With a drone, that job could be completed in five minutes. Not only is it much faster than having two people walk through the plot, the drone would be taking six measurements instead of one,” said Ditschun.
Data collected includes:
- Plant count
- Plant height
- Canopy volume
- Biomass index
- And other colour indicators
According to Ditschun, in comparison to traditional methods, drones are a minimum 10 times faster when it comes to data collection.
The drone Bayer is using for seed treatment trials is equipped with a $5,000 RGB Nikon camera with a high-resolution lens that takes three photographs per second. Flying at 90 feet, the drone can zoom close enough to do weed identification.
The DJI S1000 carbon fiber frame also supports a $2,000 RedEdge camera, $15,000 in hardware and another $15,000 in proprietary software.
Eliminating human error in visual ratings
By taking humans out of the equation, it makes the data exactly consistent from plot-to-plot, as a drone rates based on formulas and pixels.
“When you visually rate something, it’s subjective to whoever is actually looking at the plot. We try to be as consistent as possible, but there will always be some level of human error,” explained Ditschun.
“A robot is more consistent plot-to-plot and day-to-day.”
When doing these measurements the traditional way, stand count and plant height, for example, would be done in test areas, and then calculated for the field. With drones, data will be captured from the entire plot.
“Now instead of taking sample areas, the whole plot can be measured. One flight lasting about 17 minutes will generate 100 gigabytes of imagery.” explained Ditschun.
Bayer’s 2017 drone achievements
- Over 250 flights
- 44,000 plots flown
- 2.5 million data points
- 13 terabytes of imagery
- 12,000 automated ratings from a single 17-minute flight (battery capacity)
- In 17 minutes can cover 3.5 hectares
“There are still some limitations like flight time and battery weight, so at this time, drones will not be relied upon heavily.”
Ditschun believes drones will be an increasingly important tool for farming in the future. As costs decrease, prices for drones will become more affordable for producers across the country.
“What excited me most about drone technology is how it will make my job easier.
“Using a robot that has little to no error and being able to accurately apply applications to exact areas in a field and not needlessly applying is also very exciting.”