Promise of UAV as Crop Scouting Tool Highlighted at Ohlde Seed Farms Field Day


Bill Spiegel

Shane Ohlde, manager of Ohlde Seed Farms in Palmer, Kansas, had a company called RoboFlight fly-over wheat fields to determine the effectiveness of fungicide on winter wheat for the 2014 crop. He sees promise in using UAVs as another set of data to spot problem areas within his north central Kansas fields.

Ohlde invited Kevin Price, senior vice president of applied research/technology development at RoboFlight, to his seed company’s annual Technology Day on August 20.

Based in Des Moines, RoboFlight is becoming one of the nation’s leaders in a growing agricultural UAV industry, which is expected to generate $13.6 billion in revenue in three years and create nearly 10,000 jobs in the agriculture industry alone by 2025.

How UAVs Work

Small UAVs fly above farm fields, grabbing high-resolution imagery of fields from a bird’s-eye view. UAVs can “scout” a field in minutes through the air; that same field could take a farmer or crop scout hours to evaluate from the ground. It gathers data through remote sensing, measuring light reflection from the plant’s photosynthesis to determine plant health, or lack thereof.

RoboFlight is among the companies who build drones for agricultural use and can sort through the data generated by the UAVs. For example, RoboFlight can combine high-resolution, geo-referenced NDVI (normalized difference vegetative index) maps with other data-driven maps, such as nutrient recommendation, yield maps, variable rate seeding maps and more.

The company also generates remote sensing information using small airplanes.

Data gathered by the machine in flight is analyzed by the company’s digital image processing team, which provides NDVI maps to customers within a few days.

“We can hand usable data to a crop scout. He or she can look at anomalies, or patterns indicative of something going on in the field,” Price says.