More Growers Going High-Tech Down On The Farm

More Growers Going High-Tech Down On The Farm

Growers boot up drone technology on the farm

Within two years, unmanned aerial systems working over farm fields will be a common sight, Steve Maxwell of Highland Precision Ag predicts.
Photo courtesy of Highland Precision Ag

When asked what technology they would most like to deploy on their farm, many younger growers reply they’d want something that would connect and automate operations. You know, the ability to turn on irrigation systems from a cell phone on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. In addition, growers are hoping to learn how to harness the massive amounts of data being collected on farms today.

Technologies like that exist and are improving every day. That is good news when farmers are confronted with the prospect of feeding a global population of 9 billion by 2050. Even better news is young growers will be eager adopters of technologies that will drive production and efficiency higher.


Flying High

It won’t be long before unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and even robots become routine parts of daily farming operations. As the Federal Aviation Administration works out the regulations on UAS operations, companies already are establishing ways to offer high-flying services in agriculture.

Highland Precision Ag in Sebring, FL, is one such company that offers precision agriculture services, including UAS flights. Steve Maxwell, CEO of the company, says imagery collected by these machines will have profound impacts on agriculture.

“UAS is simply a vehicle to collect data on crops and soils,” Maxwell says. “As cameras become more precise and big data becomes more accessible, the imagery will fundamentally change the agriculture industry both environmentally and even in the marketing of crops.

Maxwell says growers have been receptive to the idea of using UAS on their farms and are cautiously optimistic about what the technology will offer.

“Within 24 to 36 months, you will see many farms using some sort of remote-sensing products,” he says. “One of our most intense industries is strawberries, and they will require a weekly flight.”

At the University of Central Florida, Yunjun Xu, an Associate Professor of Mechanical Aerospace Engineering, is working to develop a UAS system that will team up with a ground robot for more robust inspections of plants in fields.

Xu is applying the research to strawberries. A quad-rotor UAS flies over the crop collecting less expensive lower-resolution imagery. When it spots a potential problem area, it signals the ground robot to move to the area for a much closer and longer inspection.

The ground robot can carry a much heavier payload, thus it can carry a heavier battery for longer operation and a bigger camera for higher-resolution images. While the UAS can operate for about 30 minutes, the ground robot can cover about 10 miles on one battery life. The robot can be operated autonomously or by remote control.