Flying in the future of agriculture

By Tyler Marr
November 12, 2017 - 2:08pm Updated: November 13, 2017 - 8:14am

Trucks, combines, tractors and trailers are key tools farmers need for day to day operations. But drones are rapidly taking their place alongside these vehicles as critical time and money saving machines.

As technology has advanced, price points have dropped and practical applications for the devices has expanded. The most promising area adopting the many new uses for drones includes those involved in agriculture.

Specializing in this technology is Markus Weber, a co-founder of LandView Drones, a company built around helping introduce farmers to the devices.

“Farmers are creative. Farmers find a use for these things, but there is some learning needed to use them effectively and safely,” Weber said, who hosts seminars across the country for this very reason.

Drones can address several major challenges faced by farmers, more so as weather patterns shift and the demand for high-level productivity grows. Because of this, Weber said there is huge volumes of drones flooding the market and flowing into farmers hands.

“One thing, they are fun,” he said. “They make great harvest and feeding videos and give a new perceptive to one's operation.”

The most common use for many producers, according to Weber, is using consumer drones to scout areas of a crop which are difficult to access midseason. Locating cattle in a pasture or attempting to track down those one or two cows who are held up in the bush is another typical use.

But what he finds many do not know, is how these same products can be modified and adapted to be flown semi-autonomously to gather data and develop everything from elevations models to crop health maps.

“These, in my view, offers a lot more value to the farmer,” Weber said. “You can use that to make more money or spend less.”

Currently, many drone sensors can provide reliable data on crop health or stress, identifying everything from water stress, weed pressure, fungal infections or nuisance insects.

It is here trepidation can begin for farmers, as sifting through upwards of four different pieces of software to get a finished product can be taxing. Dealing with government regulations around the commercial use of drones on farms and ensuring the safety of the drone, pilot and public are also common areas for farmers to hesitate.

“That means steep learning curves,” Weber said. “There is as much risk as a drone flying recreationally…as there is a drone flying commercially."

These areas, however, Weber attempts to break through in the courses he offers, like the one taking place at the Alfred Jenkins Field House on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. The two-day hands-on curriculum brings farmers face-to-face with flying experience and flight plan and mapping development.

“One is teaching farmers how to get more value out of a drone,” he said. “The other elements is teaching people to fly legally. Farm drone use is considered commercial use by Transport Canada… so the bulk of the course is delivering that concept.”

Despite the learning curves, many farmers are quickly welcoming the technology and Weber foresees two types of drones in the future.

The first, he said, will be drones flying well beyond visual lines of sight, thousands of feet above the ground — essentially unmanned aircraft — collecting data for everyone passively. The second, he believes, will have the ability to “show you disease before it is visual on the ground and diagnose that disease as opposed to just saying you have a crop health issue,” and revolutionize production.



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On Twitter: @JournoMarr

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