Nearly 20 years ago, I watched as a crops consultant ran with a model airplane. It took off, flew up over a field, snapped photos with a typical camera strapped under the belly, and came back. The landing was rather hard, but it stayed intact. From there the consultant put a silver-dollar shaped GPS receiver on his hat and we went into a corn field to ground truth different growth patterns the camera saw while flying overhead.
This was clearly ahead of its time. But then imaging of crops and following up on them has been around for more than four decades. It first showed promise when some of the first satellites were launched and could send back images that showed vegetation.
It's taken a long time to get here, but it would appear that crop scouting and imaging might just be about ready to explode. Whether 2014 will be the year, or whether tighter crop margins will cause farmers to pull in their horns and not invest in these services, even if they're valuable, remains to be seen. But at Beck's Hybrids field day last fall, there was lots of interest in crop imaging. They will be offering a service this year.
Now there is keen interest in flying drones. Various companies are popping up offering various-priced models that take off easier than the model airplane 20 years ago, come back home with a soft landing, and have better images for ground truthing. There are also hand-held crop scouting devices that have GPS built in. Danny Greene, Franklin, of Greene Ag Consulting, Inc., demonstrated one of those this fall. It allows you to go in to where the drone showed that growth was different and see what's going on.
Now the real question: How long before Santa Claus decides to use drones to deliver packages? From an out-of-date sleigh to modern technology, that would be quite an upgrade. Whether Amazon is serious about delivery by drones who knows, but it just might be the thing for Santa Claus!