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Wsb: Drones Help Quantify Wild Pig Damage

By Dana Kobilinsky

An eye in the sky can help landowners make decisions for managing wild pigs

Bethany Friesenhahn grew up in a farming family in Texas, and since she was young she saw firsthand how wild pigs damaged her family’s crops. Talking with other farmers, she knew this was common problem on agricultural land, but the damage had never really been quantified.

“We hear pigs are causing damage, but how much damage are they causing?” said Friesenhahn, a research specialist with Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute. She assumed ground-based estimations might be biased, over- or underestimating the damage. But accurately estimating damage costs could help agricultural producers evaluate the costs and benefits of taking steps to prevent wild pig damage. It could also help them file insurance claims.

Since the institute has a drone research program, she wondered if using drones to give farmers a view from the sky could help them get a better sense of wild pigs’ impacts on their land.

She led a study published in The Wildlife Society Bulletin estimating the amount of damage to cornfields and what costs that might have for farmers.

To conduct the study, Friesenhahn and her colleagues developed relationships with landowners, who allowed them to monitor their agricultural fields via drones during the growing season.

Flying the devices over cornfields in Delta County, Texas, in 2019 and 2020, the team could see in real-time which areas were damaged, then walk the fields to ground truth what they saw from the air. When they compared damaged areas to maps of real-time harvest yields, they could quantify the impacts. “We were able to see substantially lower yields when pig damage was there,” she said.

In some cases, pigs damaged over 9% of farmer’s fields, adding up to notable financial losses. One farmer lost over $5,000 to pig damage.

“It’s terrible, but I wasn’t surprised by it,” she said.

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