Farm Progress

Checking soybean maturity, corn fertility, field drainage and church roofs are four jobs a North Dakota farmer does with a drone.

June 21, 2017

2 Min Read
DRONE JOBS: Jeremy Wilson finds lots of uses on his farm for a drone equipped with a camera.

There are a lot of high-tech ways to use drones on the farm. Most involve using near-infrared cameras and developing maps that can be layered with other data to create variable-rate fertilizer application and planting prescriptions. But there are simple ways to use a drone, too. Here are four:

• Scheduling soybean harvest. Jeremy Wilson, Jamestown, N.D., says he used to drive around to all his bean fields in September, stop and then climb up and stand on the pickup roof so he could look over the field and see how much of the crop had turned brown. He’d rate the fields on their color and then schedule the combines. Now he pops up a drone over the field and takes a picture. “It’s a lot quicker, and I have photos to compare,” Wilson says.

• Checking low spots and blocked ditches. Wilson flies a drone after heavy rains to take pictures of fields to see where the water ponded and which ditches are backing up. “It’s a handy way to check drainage,” he says.

• Determining corn nitrogen needs. Wilson farms some sandy soils with high water tables. To reduce N losses to leaching and to protect groundwater, he applies a low base rate of fertilizer at planting and then sidedresses the crop several times during the year. He bumps up the base rate in one strip in each field and uses the drone to take pictures of the fields periodically so that he can compare how green the plants are in and outside of the “hot streak” of fertilizer. Plants that are lighter green need more N. “I can take the picture, decide what to do and have all our corn sidedressed in two days,” Wilson says. “If I had to take tissue tests and wait for the results to be analyzed, it would take too long. I’d be losing yield.”

• Inspecting roofs. Wilson’s church was thinking about buying a building and needed to inspect the roof. “It was pretty steep. Nobody wanted to climb up there,” Wilson says. “I flew my drone and took pictures of the roof, eaves, everything. It was a big help.”

Wilson, who spoke recently at a drone media day hosted by Peterson Farms Seed, says he’s not making a lot of money with his drone yet, but he’s finding practical ways to use it. In some cases, it’s saved him time and money.

“My dad was a pilot, and we used go up in a plane to check fields,” Wilson says. “Flying a drone costs a lot less than filling up the plane with aviation fuel.”

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