Keep UAV crop scouting, data collection on your radar

Keep UAV crop scouting, data collection on your radar

Corn Illustrated: New innovations and more clarity about FAA intentions show promise for UAV technology.

Jim Love programmed a flight for the $25,000 Ebee plane from senseFly in a matter of minutes. It automatically flew a 40-acre mission and returned. Then he flew the same 40 acres by programming a mission into a beta-version of DJI's latest Phantom quadcopter. It will likely retail around $1,200 to $1,500.

Related: Tool created to help determine farmer ROI on UAV use

Both flights, one after the other, went on without incident. Each only took a matter of minutes.

Technology advances: You may see more of these in the sky in coming seasons as companies improve technology and as FAA closes in on issuing reasonable rules for commercial use of UAVs.

That was 10 a.m. By 1 p.m., Love had a stitched image of the field. He could get it from either the plane or the beta test Phantom quadcopter. Data from the plane can be stitched through a $5,000 computer software program you can purchase.

You can also use subscription services available on the Web. In that case, you pay for each individual image you choose to produce, Love says. Prices vary across a wide range from $100 to $1,600.

The stitched image is what agronomists and crop consultants have been waiting for. Without it they have noted, or at least some have commented, that UAVs are good scouting tools, but not real data collection tools. With the ability to produce and store stitched images of vegetative indexes of the entire field, on any field you want, they are now suddenly excellent data collection tools as well.

The other piece for UAV success is implementation of rules by the Federal Aviation Administration that legalize use of UAVs for commercial purposes in agriculture.

Related: 15 universities to come together for UAV research

Two things have happened on that front. First, some companies applied for and received exemptions from FAA to operate specific UAVs for specific uses this year. There is a cost involved in obtaining those exemptions.

Second, FAA issues a proposed rule for the use of small UAVs for agriculture and other purposes in late February. Love says the comment period only drew 4,500 responses, which is an extremely low number. He expects the FAA to issue final rules within the next year.

Love and his staff have examined the rule, and believe they can comply without major issues. It's about the size of a small paperback book, but boiled down, most of the rules are common sense, he notes.

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