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Drone images don’t lieDrone images don’t lie

Soybean Watch: A season-long mystery is finally solved.

Tom J. Bechman

November 3, 2023

3 Min Read
An aerial view of a soybean field with alternating strips of light and dark colored green plants
2 VARIETIES, RIGHT? From this drone image taken in very late July, it certainly appears that there are two varieties planted in alternating strips in this soybean field. Yet the grower and his employee insisted their records only showed one variety planted there. Photos by Steve Gauck

You want to know the best reason to fly a drone over your crop fields at various times each summer? The images produced can help explain what happened in that field in that particular year. The drone’s camera does not lie — those images tell the truth every time. And the record of the season you can build from drone images far outruns your memory for accuracy.

Here’s an example from the Soybean Watch ’23 field that proves the point. “We mainly walked the left half of the field during scouting visits, simply because it was more easily accessible,” explains Steve Gauck, a regional agronomy manager for Beck’s, sponsor of Soybean Watch ’23. “That was sufficient for our purposes. If you were doing actual scouting and making recommendations, you would want to walk into every corner of the field.”

So, Gauck was somewhat surprised when he looked at images from a drone flight in very late July.

“There was an obvious pattern on the right side of the field,” he recalls. “There were alternating strips of soybeans that varied somewhat in color and appearance. The obvious answer was that the operator planted two varieties, one on one side of the planter and a second variety on the other side.”

Monkey wrench

However, the landowner threw a monkey wrench into Gauck’s conclusion when he checked his written records and discovered that there was nothing marked about two different varieties planted side by side there. It was puzzling, Gauck says, largely because differences were obvious in the drone image.

Related:Say hello to Mr. Grasshopper in soybeans

“We began examining other possible causes,” Gauck explains. “I did see a case once where depth was deeper on one side of the planter than the other. It resulted in differences in rate of growth in that field. Still, the best explanation seemed to be that there were two varieties planted side by side.

“We will know when fall comes,” Gauck insisted, as far back as early August. Sure enough, by mid-September, there was no doubt. One variety was considerably farther along on maturity than the other.

drone image of soybean field with alternating strips of lighter and darker colored plants

The grower had already consulted his written field records a second time — no mention of using two varieties. But when differences in maturity appeared, he and his employee put their heads together again. After some serious memory recall, they concluded that the employee filled the planter on that side of the field with beans from side-by-side compartments in the seed tender. He thought they were the same variety, but he and the grower finally determined they were not. The drone image certainly verified that conclusion.

“We have so many ways to record what happens in a field today,” Gauck concludes. “A drone with a camera is just another tool to help track and record what happens during the season.”

Read more about:

Aerial ImageryDrones

About the Author(s)

Tom J. Bechman

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Tom J. Bechman is editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer. He joined Farm Progress in 1981 as a field editor, first writing stories to help farmers adjust to a difficult harvest after a tough weather year. His goal today is the same — writing stories that help farmers adjust to a changing environment in a profitable manner.

Bechman knows about Indiana agriculture because he grew up on a small dairy farm and worked with young farmers as a vocational agriculture teacher and FFA advisor before joining Farm Progress. He works closely with Purdue University specialists, Indiana Farm Bureau and commodity groups to cover cutting-edge issues affecting farmers. He specializes in writing crop stories with a focus on obtaining the highest and most economical yields possible.

Tom and his wife, Carla, have four children: Allison, Ashley, Daniel and Kayla, plus eight grandchildren. They raise produce for the food pantry and house 4-H animals for the grandkids on their small acreage near Franklin, Ind.

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