Friday November 28, 2014

Farmers take to using UAVs


A few weeks back I was on the disc golf course in Yorkton, and as I came away from the ninth basket I was drawn to a gentleman operating a radio-controlled flying machine.

It was not an airplane, nor was it a helicopter.

The unit obviously had four motors and as I began a conversation with the operator I learned it was what is commonly referred to as a drone, on Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

Often the UAV, like the one at the disc golf park, has a camera mounted under the frame, allowing for aerial pictures.

Now one might wonder what seeing a UAV at a disc golf course has to do with agriculture.

Well as it turned out I did a bit of research on UAVs, and have found they are being touted as a rather exciting new tool for farmers.

Farmers have been moving into more advanced field monitoring technologies for several years now. Producers are already taking advantage of satellite imagery, Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in their precision farming strategies.

With the adoption of these new technologies have come new systems which can better analyze the associated data in such a way that farmers can make better decisions in terms of precision farming.

But it is one thing to get an image from a satellite in orbit, and quite another to be able to create low level aerial images.

An airplane could be used, but there is added expertise needed in terms of piloting such a craft, and a huge cost in terms of airplane investment and operation.

Which brings us the realm of UAVs?

While initial costs and the range of sensor attachments is rather diverse, in terms of a modern farm’s overall operational cost it is low.

The UAV in the hands of even a rather novice operator can crisscross a field taking multiple images, which then becomes another tool in terms of analyzing crop and weed conditions, and the possible need for application of nutrients or crop protection products.

The potential for such technology is huge. The website had a recent story where it was stated, “according to a 2013 report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, precision agriculture accounts for 80 percent of the potential commercial market for unmanned aerial systems. This market is predicted to hit US$3 billion in the next three years, cresting to U$30 billion in the coming decade, said the report.”

Certainly the ability to get a bird’s eye view across an entire field has to be an asset, and it is likely a UAV will become common place in the half ton of most farmers in the years ahead, another high-tech tool to improve the agronomics of the industry.

Calvin Daniels is Assistant Editor with Yorkton This Week.



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