For years, agronomists and crop consultants have been using different tools to help diagnose problems in the field to help growers get the best yield. These services range from soil sampling to crop scouting. Recently, companies have started utilizing imagery to help aid in finding those troublesome spots. These trusted advisors have three ways they can get imagery satellite, manned, and unmanned aircrafts. Different companies use different tools; for instance, some apps provide satellite imagery of the field. At Labre Crop Consulting, we use both manned and unmanned aircraft. What is best for your farm? I will break down all three of them so you can decide what is best for you.
Numerous companies currently utilize satellite imagery because it is generally inexpensive and relatively easy to get a hold of. Certain satellites circle the earth at specific intervals. Some satellites go over the same spot everyday, others go over once a week, and some go over once a month. Often times when you are given satellite imagery you are seeing it once a week, which can be a great way to monitor how your crops are doing week to week. A couple downsides with satellite imagery are it generally lacks detail, and cloud cover can become an issue. If the satellite goes over your field when clouds are present chances are the image will be skewed, and you will have to wait until your next image in hopes it is a cloudless day.
This brings us to manned aircraft. This tends to be slightly more expensive than satellites, but you can get more for the cost. Generally, you can still have all of your fields flown for a small price, but the imagery is much better allowing you to pinpoint exact areas in the field that are struggling. If you have a waterway for example that will be more defined. Another positive is flights can take place any day of the week, for instance, if Monday turns out to be a cloudy day they can try again another day. Where we run into problems is if every day is a cloudy day.
Which brings us to unmanned aircraft or UAVs. UAVs give you slightly better image quality than what you get with the manned aircraft, they can also go out at any time. Instead of waiting for an image you can just fly it whenever you need it. For instance, if you drive past your field in the morning and notice some yellowing corn, but aren’t sure how big the area is you can grab the drone or call someone who has drone services. You can have them fly that day, have it inspected, and problems solved within a day. The downside to these is the drones that have the properly calibrated cameras to get the proper imagery tend to be expensive. If you choose to have someone do the work instead, that also tends to be a little more expensive, and you only get one field flown instead of all of them which is more labor intensive.
You might be wondering which one is best for you? The decision is up to you and your needs. If you are looking for cheap and easy, satellite imagery may be best. If you are looking for something that can show you what is going on in your field week to week, and allow you to monitor what’s going on and make decisions based off of it, then manned aircraft may be for you. If you spot a problem, and you don’t want to wait to figure out what’s going on or you are looking for recommendations a UAV may be your solution. It is also possible that a mix of these is needed.
The good thing is, no matter what you choose you can keep an eye on your field from above. With all of these options, you are able to get an idea of how your whole field is doing, and not just the area you, your agronomist or your crop consultant sees.