Farmers looking to use drone technology

drone technology on the farm

Farmers across America are waiting for the chance to add drone technology to their farm operations as a means of being more efficient, especially when it comes to scouting crops for disease. (photo from americasbackbone.com)

Drone technology has the potential to change the way farmers scout their fields for things like disease issues and pest pressure. The technology appears to have come a long way in a relatively short time, but there’s a more basic question to ask first:

How does it work?

“If you’re a farmer who wants to use a drone, it’s like having a 200 foot ladder to survey your field,” said Ian Smith, Business Development and Marketing Manager for DroneDeploy of San Francisco, California. “Usually a farmer would take some pictures of the field, but just pictures won’t get you a lot of useful information.”

DroneDeploy drone technology

DroneDeploy of San Francisco is a company looking to expand into the agricultural market as farmers look for more efficient methods of running their farms. (photo from twitter.com)

Smith added, “Instead, you need to create maps.”

The Drone Deploy software includes an app for smartphones.

“You can connect your smartphone directly to the drone with the app,” Smith said. “Our software lets you create aerial maps, 3D models, and images of your entire field. The images will be zoomable, high quality, and high resolution.”

The smartphone is hooked into the drone control unit through a USB port.

“When you open the app up, it’s connected to the drone,” Smith said. “You then draw on a base layer map and your drone’s GPS location shows up, similar to what you’d see on Google Maps to figure out where you are. Our app allows you to draw boundaries on a map that will show the drone where to go and take pictures.”

Basically, the farmer drags the corners of a box to outline the area to survey, and hits okay. A split second later, the software draws up a flight plan.

“The drone runs through a few flight checks, and then it automatically takes off straight up into the air,” Smith said. “It then starts to fly through the designated area and takes pictures. It surveys the field through waypoints on the map, getting good overlap between pictures. It then lands in the exact spot it took off from.”

He said the farmer never has to touch the drone’s joystick. The app pilots the machine automatically.

“When the drone lands,” Smith said, “you pull an SD card out of the drone. It’s similar to a card you’d find in a digital camera. You take it out of the drone and pop it in your computer, where you upload all those images to the Drone Deploy system. The system uses a photogrammetric stitching process to bring all of the pictures together into one high quality image.

“It’s basically like having your own Google map of your farm field,” Smith said.

How high the drone will fly depends upon how much area you need covered in the map.

“There’s a default altitude that we set,” Smith said, “usually 250 feet above ground. Changes depend upon how big your picture needs to be. If you have a 400-acre farm, you’d probably want to fly higher than that because you have more ground to cover.”

Flying higher to cover more ground can actually save on battery life for your drone.

“If you adjust parameters, such as height, with our app, it will update in real time how long that flight is going to take,” Smith said. “If your drone has a battery that lasts 20 minutes, and you adjust it to fly higher, it covers more ground in shorter time. The flight time then will drop in real time, so you make sure you have enough battery for each flight.”

The actual stitching process of your photos is entirely automatic.

“Even when we’re all asleep here in San Francisco (company headquarters) and someone is making a map in Australia,” Smith said, “it’s all automated. No one has to be awake at all.”

Once the images are uploaded, then it’s time for a farmer to wait.

“You go grab a cup of coffee, or whatever,” Smith said. “Depending upon the size and quality of the images you collect, in a couple hours, you’ll get an email saying your map is done. Once you click on the link, you’re right in your high quality, high resolution map that same day you took the pictures.”

He said same-day data is important for farmers, as things can literally change overnight due to events like severe weather.

Turnaround time on getting the stitching process done rarely takes more than a few hours.

“It all depends on things like how many pixels are in each image,” Smith said. “For example, a high end camera can take 60-75 seconds per image to process, so if you throw around 50 images in there, you’re probably looking at around an hour turnaround time.”

Even if the system is processing a large number of maps, you’ll still get your map back in a short time.

“With the horsepower we have in our big servers,” Smith said, “even if we’re processing 50 maps, you’ll still get your map back relatively quickly.”

High-end drones can run up to $3,000, but he said you don’t have to spend that much to get a good map, but there is a baseline recommendation.

“The lowest you may want to go if you’re getting into this today is probably $1,000,” Smith said. “However, 6 to 8 months from now, you’ll probably be able to spend $800, and a couple years from now, it’ll be lower than that.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

State Fair and Farm Bureau Accepting Century Farm Applications

Century Farm program winners receive a sign with this logo

The Minnesota Farm Bureau and the Minnesota State Fair are accepting applications for the next round of Century Farm awards. Winners receive a sign like this to display in front of their farmyard. (photo from readme.readmedia.com)

Minnesota families who have owned their farms for at least 100 years may apply for the 2016 Century Farm Program. The Minnesota State Fair, together with the Minnesota Farm Bureau, created the Century Farms Program to promote agriculture and honor the state’s historic family farms.

More than 10,000 Minnesota farms have been honored since the program began in 1976.

Family farms are recognized as Century Farms if they meet three requirements. The farm must be: 1) at least 100 years old according to authentic land records; 2) in continuous family ownership for at least 100 years (continuous residence on the farm is not required); and 3) at least 50 acres.

Qualifying farms and the family ownership get a commemorative certificate signed by State Fair Board President Sharon Wessel, Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap, and Governor Mark Dayton.  They also receive an outdoor sign signifying Century Farm status.

Century Farm award winners must meet three criteria

To be a Century Farm winner, farms must be: 1) at least 100 years old according to authenticated records 2) in continuous family ownership for 100 years (but you don’t have to live on the land continually)
3. at least 50 acres
(Photo from Southerminn.com)

Applications are available online at mnstatefair.org (click the “Recognition Programs” link at the bottom of the home page); at fbmn.org; by calling the State Fair at (651) 288-4400; or at statewide county extension and county Farm Bureau offices. The submission deadline is April 1. Recipients will be announced in May.

Previously recognized families should not reapply.

Information on all Century Farms will be available at the Minnesota Farm Bureau exhibit during the 2016 Minnesota State Fair, which runs Aug. 25 – Labor Day, Sept. 5.

A Century Farm database is also available at fbmn.org.

The Minnesota State Fair is one of the largest and best-attended expositions in the world, attracting 1.8 million visitors annually. Showcasing Minnesota’s finest agriculture, art and industry, the Great Minnesota Get-Together is always 12 Days of Fun Ending Labor Day. Visit mnstatefair.org for more information.

Minnesota Farm Bureau – Farmers ● Families ● Food, is comprised of 78 local Farm Bureau associations across Minnesota. Members make their views known to political leaders, state government officials, special interest groups and the general public.

Farm Bureau programs for young farmers and ranchers develop leadership skills and improve farm management. Promotion and Education Committee members work with programs such as Ag in the Classroom and safety education for children.

Join Farm Bureau today and support efforts to serve as an advocate for rural Minnesota, fbmn.org.

South central Minnesota crops progressing

Crops are progressing at a good pace in south central Minnesota.

Ryan Miller is a Crop Educator with the University of Minnesota Extension Service in Rochester. Miller covers south central Minnesota, and said things are looking good, but there are some questions, especially when it comes to the soybean crop.

“Yes, things are looking good,” said Miller. “The one strange thing is the fields that were planted in early May typically aren’t showing rows anymore, and we can still see them. There are some places where you can still see down to the soil surface, which is extremely odd at this point, unless it was a really late planted field. That peaked my interest.”

He added, “They could still potentially close, and we’ll be following up in the next week or two to see what happens.”

The other challenge in soybeans is disease pressure in certain fields.

SDS in Soybeans

He are soybeans showing the symptoms of sudden death syndrome, which is said to be showing up in south central Minnesota bean fields. (Photo from Pioneer.com)

“It appears sudden death syndrome is starting to poke its head up,” said Miller. “We’re starting to see the symptomology. We should start to see more of it in the next couple of weeks. Right now, unless you’re out in the fields, it’s hard to see the foliar symptoms. If you’re on the road, you probably won’t pick it up.

“Unfortunately, there is a history of SDS in the area, basically from Waseca to Owatonna, and Austin to Albert Lea,” said Miller.

Farmers may want to begin scouting their soybean fields for aphid activity.

“We’re starting to see aphid activity, and to this point it hasn’t been too big of a problem,” said Miller. “Up until a few days ago, the activity was really light and hard to even spot. Now, it’s really variable from field to field. Some are at our threshold of 250 aphids per plant, with 80 percent of the plants infested, and they need to be sprayed. But there are other fields even a few miles away that don’t need spraying.”

Soybean Aphids

Soybean aphids are showing up in south central Minnesota fields, but may not be at threshold yet. It’s important to scout fields as soon as possible. (photo from sdsoybean.org)

Miller wants farmers to avoid the temptation to spray without checking fields to see if it’s necessary.

“Given the current economic situation, people could benefit from waiting to spray (if a field isn’t at threshold),” said Miller. “We’re not out of the woods. These products won’t necessarily end the infestation. There are fields that may see recolonization later on. There are a lot of aphids flying around.”

A story developing out of southwest Minnesota involves non-performance of aphid killing products.

“There’s a narrow band of area in southwest Minnesota where there’s been some non-performance of insecticides,” said Miller. “How we stay away from that is waiting to spray until we need to, and that also can limit the need for a second application. But you still need to stay on top of it. Things can change quickly, and it won’t always be evident from the road.”

He said the overall condition of the corn looks good.

“We’re in the R2 to R3 stage,” said Miller. “I was looking at doing some early harvest estimates, and it’s a little tough because we have a long way to go. However, assuming we continue with good conditions, we might be looking at anywhere from 187 to 260 bushels per acre. If we can continue with good conditions, the harvest could be a little above normal.”

So far, the corn crop doesn’t seem to be feeling a lot of pressure.

“The corn really looks good,” Miller said. “I know there was some concern in northern Iowa with corn on corn leaf blight, but the corn here looks good.

“The bottom leaves haven’t even fired up yet, which they do when they hit the R3 stage. At that stage, the plant begins to recirculate some of its nitrogen and nutrients to use things up, and that hasn’t happened yet. The soil and the environment are still providing adequate fertility.”

The small grain harvest is progressing well in south central Minnesota.

Oats harvest

The oats harvest in south central Minnesota is all but wrapped up, according to Ryan Miller of the Extension Service. Results are generally in the 150 bushel per acre range. (photo from pond5.com)

“I’m hearing tremendous yields on oats,” he said, “somewhere in the area of 150 bushels. That’s a phenomenal yield for small grains. Haven’t heard a lot on wheat yields yet, but I think that will be good too.”

He added, “Reports out of northwest Minnesota are that they have had good yields, but the protein content was a little low.”

 

Here’s the complete interview with Ryan:

 

 

 

 

Safety is key when handling anhydrous ammonia

In upcoming weeks, many area farmers will begin spring anhydrous ammonia (ammonia) applications. Serious injuries in Minnesota over the last several years were caused by the mishandling of ammonia.

To stay safe when handling ammonia or performing maintenance on ammonia MDA-logoequipment, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture urges dealers and farmers to:

  • Never wear contact lenses.
  • Always wear ammonia-rated goggles and cuffed gloves.
  • Have an accessible, clean emergency water supply of at least:

Five gallons on each nurse tank; and 150 gallons in an open top container at each storage facility.

  • Never assume ammonia lines are empty.
  • Stand upwind when connecting, disconnecting, bleeding lines, or transferring ammonia.

    Please be safe as you get set to handle anhydrous ammonia applications this spring.  You’re family wants you to be around and healthy for a long time.  (Photo from broome.soil.ncsu.edu)

    Please be safe as you get set to handle anhydrous ammonia applications this spring. You’re family wants you to be around and healthy for a long time. (Photo from broome.soil.ncsu.edu)

  • Positioning ammonia equipment away and downwind from livestock, homes, schools, and other places where people gather.
  • Always handle a hose end valve by the valve BODY.
  • Close, bleed, disconnect, and secure transfer lines when taking breaks, discontinuing application, or transfers.
  • Keep all equipment properly maintained.

Drive sensibly when towing nurse tanks over the road.

  • Travel no faster than 30 miles per hour with a slow-moving vehicle emblem displayed from the rear.
  • The hitch connection must consist of a hitch pin with a retainer clip and two, independent safety chains.

If an accident or spill (incident) occurs, immediately contact: