Drones take to the skies

Article taken from Farmers Club, Summer 2017, issue 268.


Making the most of precision farming opportunities is a challenge for arable and livestock farmers alike. One company championing the appliance of science in the arable sector is Agrovista, which is launching a new service at the Cereals Event in Lincolnshire on 14th and 15th June this year.

The aim is to make the best use of imagery collected from drones flown over a farmer's fields, whether the drone is flown by the farmer himself, his agronomist, or a third party.

In future farmers will want agronomists to be much more IT savvy, to help them reap the full benefits of the technological revolution that is now underway, Agrovista believes. Helping growers make sense of the mountain of data derived from drones, satellites, tractor-mounted sensors and data from other sources, to turn it into practical farm information, will be essential.

Bringing new technology to the industry that is easily transferable onto farm in one or two seasons is its aim . The key to success is to be able to handle the vast amount of data that is generated, explains Lewis McKerrow, head of precision technology. With drone-mounted cameras capturing vast amounts of data, with resolutions as fine as 1cm  for each pixel comprising the image, and collected in near infra-red, red-edge and multi-spectrum formats, each field can generate giga-bytes of data, equivalent to hours of HD video.

What's more precision farming encompasses a host of other areas of technology, with a wealth of  data capture, from yield maps, soil sampling and green area index recorders, as well as drone imagery. It all has to be managed, stored and made accessible to those needing to evaluate and use the data.

"Our cloud-based  IT system, Axis, allows agronomy and precision farming data to be uploaded and shared in real time with advisers, agronomists, operators and contractors, to improve business flexibility and efficiency as a result," Mr McKerrow says.

Users have instant access to crop management information, from the time of recording the  data in the field right through to the yield maps that come at harvest, and beyond. The aim is to use that to underpin more timely decisions to drive efficient, cost-effective farming.

Axis integrates with Greenlight Grower Management, so growers can add information which will immediately synchronise with the agronomist, effectively creating an electronic library of new and past recommendations, cropping information, nutrition and agronomy reports, technical and trials information, detailed weather reports and account updates.

"Axis allows all that information to be accessed from any device connected to the internet, anywhere," Mr McKerrow notes.

"We recognise that modern technology should be easy to use and access on the go. Recognising that many of the key data requirements happen without the confines of an office environment, we have worked closely with our partners to provide offline smartphone and tablet apps to ensure that you can capture and record data wherever you are."

Field mapping


The new drone service, available through Axis MapITPro, allows the farmer, or their advisor, to select the accuracy of drone data required, maybe something between 2cm and 20cm, and upload it into their data library, ready to be used to generate variable rate plans for crop inputs, including seed and fertiliser, for example.

It uses a Google-based mapping system to establish field boundaries and is complemented by an iPhone/iPad app.

The field mapping function overlays maps created from drone data with yield maps, a soil map, and maybe crop information added from mobile sensors. Each map layer can be seen on the field map, to visualise performance, and allow a variable rate application plan to be created manually.

Zone maps can be created and variable rate plans produced to automatically guide drills and fertiliser spreaders fitted with variable rate systems. Indeed, generating maps for variable rate seed drilling, or variable rate fertiliser application, is a popular way of  using such data. But Mr McKerrow believes much more will be possible in future.

Weed patches

"A drone map might suggest a weed infestation, of sterile brome, for example, and after truth testing it by field walking, it can be possible to generate a 'heat map '. By using a mapping application on a smart phone glyphosate could be applied to identified patches, before seed set, or those areas could be targeted for stale seedbed treatment, or higher seed rates at drilling time to increase competition ."

Weather Stations and Environmental Monitoring

From high tech soil analysis systems, on-farm weather stations, to the yield map at the end of the season, Agrovista's Plantsystems division aims to offer growers a modern package tailored to their needs. The data collected is used to help manage every field in an efficient manner, allowing cost and time saving by utilising variable rate applications.

Plantsystems has supplied and operated professional automatic weather stations in the UK and Ireland since 1996, providing easy access to real-time weather data in a user-friendly format. Daily Weather Forecast is tailored specifically for agriculture and Daily Forecast Xtra includes a disease risk prediction, based on the weather forecast and local weather data collected from weather stations.



09 June 2017

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