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On-farm remote sensing will be more valuable in the future


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• Had there been problems, like insect or disease damage in the field, I’m sure the high resolution photographs taken by the drone would have exposed them without anyone having to trudge through the waist-high field of beans.

The uses for drones for agriculture seem to be endless. Maja and his research colleagues in Reza Ehsani’s program at the Citrus Research and Education Center in Florida use the drone to scout for citrus trees infected with citrus greening.

Citrus greening is vectored by a tiny insect and has cost the Florida industry billions of dollars during its decade or so time of destruction. Use of drones is but one of many high tech strategies used to try and offset the damage the disease is costing throughout citrus producing areas of the world.

After talking with Owen and Maja for a while, my big question was why aren’t drones more widely used in agriculture in the Southeast?

Lewis Smith is an Extension County Coordinator in Perquimans County in northeast North Carolina and was among the visitors watching the drone fly at the Virginia Ag Expo. I asked Lewis what he thought about the potential for using drones to scout crops in the V-C area.

“Based on the discussion at the Virginia Expo, price is probably somewhat prohibitive. I would think that some of the larger consultants might adopt this technology in the not too distant future. It would be helpful for identifying weak areas in fields so the consultant and/or producer could go to that area and determine corrective action.” Smith says. 

“If drones are able to use infrared photography, I think that would be a real plus. It would be great if the photography is sharp enough to identify insect infestations. You could target, kudzu bugs and stink bugs, which tend to infest some areas of fields in higher concentrations than other parts of the same field,” he adds.

Cost of drones and questions over FAA regulations for flying the machines over private or public land may be the primary reasons, but there seems to be way too much apathy on the part of agriculture over using this technology. 

For example, in the Southeast, the University of Florida and Virginia Tech University are the only two Land-Grant universities among the 65 or so entities licensed by the FAA to fly drones.

As farms get to be larger and larger and farmers get to be fewer and fewer, this kind of remote sensing for crop production data is surely going to be more valuable. The technology is here, and it shouldn’t be one we sit back for another decade and largely ignore.


     More from Southeast Farm Press

Irrigation cuts costs, worry for North Carolina's Todd Lewis

Drones may help detect crop problems at early stage

First-ever bulk shipment of U.S. grain sorghum has arrived in China


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