Drones are now impacting and shaping the way business is conducted worldwide. 

For Ellis County agriculture producer John Paul Dineen III, a drone flown by university researchers allowed him to get a picture of his corn crop’s health from the air. 

Dineen said that flying a drone across his 90-acre corn field takes less time and provides him with a better picture of the crop’s health.

“It is really illogical for me to say that I would ever walk the whole 90 acres scouting it,” Dineen told the Sun. “We are going to scout the corners and the ends but with the drones and the technology you can look the whole field over from end to end much better than I could on foot.”

Researcher Brian McLaughlin said the health of a crop is determined through the infrared light that’s measured by the drone as it flies overhead. 

“What we are looking for is infrared light,” he said. “It is a poison to a plant and they are trying to shoot it back, just like with all the germs that are out there that our body is constantly trying to fight back. 

“A healthy plant is going to be able to push back a lot more of that infrared light than say an unhealthy plant,” he said. “It is going to have a much higher reflectance and we are capturing that light bouncing off. So, we will be able to see the healthy plants and see where the areas of stress are.”

McLaughlin said the information he’s able to present to producers shows them the areas of their fields where crops are stressed. Producers have a better idea of what’s going on in their fields after they review the data. 

According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Review’s website, drones have been used commercially since the early 1980s but are seeing expanding use in several industries. Some of the uses include soil and field analysis, planting, crop spraying, crop monitoring, irrigation and health assessment. Potential benefits of using drones in agriculture include increased yields, saving time and the ability to plan for the future. 

McLaughlin said drones can give producers a helping hand when it comes to crop management.

“Here in the next month, it (the corn) is going to be high and you are going to get lost out there,” he said. “I have had to survey these corn rows before and you don’t know which way you are going when you get in there. You also risk trampling over the crops or stepping on copperheads. There are lots of things that could go wrong. 

“Also, just the speed at which we can detect these things,” he said. “We are able to see stuff with the drone that you can’t see with your eyes because of that non-visible light that it captures. We are just getting started (with the possibilities).” 

Another example of drone use in agriculture is with the USDA, whose Agricultural Research Service scientists are using drones to sample irrigation ponds for E. coli. This could give producers a new tool to avoid spraying potentially harmful bacteria on crops. 

According to an April 2017 Farm Journal Pulse poll, 31 percent of 1,094 farmers said they are considering using drones, 21 percent are using drones by themselves, 12 percent are using drones through a third-party provider and 37 percent said they’re not considering using drones.

Dineen echoed McLaughlin’s thoughts and feels the use of the technology is vital to help producers work smarter, not harder. He noted the data gained from his field will help refine the technology.

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