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10 tips to prep your drone for crop scouting

Tom J. Bechman drone flying across blue sky
TAKEOFF! When everything goes right, drones can capture lots of data in a short time. Jim Love with Beck’s says you can increase the odds for problem-free flying by doing prep work in advance.
Be sure your drone is ready to work so you won’t be disappointed when you get to the field.

When you think about which tools to get ready for a season, you think about planters and sprayers in the spring and combines for summer and fall. If you use a drone for crop scouting, add it to your list of equipment that needs preseason maintenance.

“Nothing is more frustrating than needing data, driving to a corn or soybean field, opening the drone case and finding a drone that won’t function,” says Jim Love, unmanned aerial vehicle and light robotics manager and herbicide specialist with Beck’s. He also supplies information for FarmServer updates.

Here are 10 tips to make sure your drone will be ready when you need it:

1. Charge and check the batteries. You’re going to see this tip again, because making sure batteries are workable and charged is huge when it comes to how long you can fly your drone, Love says.

2. Charge the transmitter. Refer to the operator’s manual if you need to refresh yourself on this or any other preflight task.

3. Check your case carefully. Make sure no one has “borrowed” the tablet or phone cabling and forgot to return it, Love says.

4. Is your operating system up to date? Be sure your phone or tablet has the latest operating system installed. If you are using apps, make sure they are up to date as well, Love says.

5. Show your SD card some love. Is the card in the drone? Is there plenty of space left? If it’s full, you need to delete old files or purchase another card before heading to the field.

6. Carry two or more SD cards. Take it from someone who has learned the hard way, Love says. He has seen cards fail without warning. Unless you have a backup, you’re “burning daylight.”

7. Remove the props and start the drone while on Wi-Fi or cellular data. This allows for updates. They’re becoming less frequent, so don’t be surprised if you’re still up to date, Love notes.

8. Step outside and make a short flight. Think of it as making a dry run in the barn lot with your corn planter before planting season!

9. Check on stored batteries before heading to the field. Lithium-ion batteries last longer if stored at partial charge, Love says. That’s why they auto-discharge. So, you will likely find they are at 75% charge or less even if they haven’t been used. Top them off on charge before you head to the field.

10. Understand Federal Aviation Administration regulations and requirements. If you’re scouting crops with your drone, even your own crops, you need the FAA Part 107 certificate. If you already have it, check the anniversary date printed on the front.

The FAA recently made some rule changes concerning UAVs in agriculture. One of those changes requires operators to take an online safety training course in lieu of retesting every two years. Bob Nielsen, Purdue University Extension corn specialist, recently compiled helpful information regarding pertinent rules changes. Find Changes to FAA Drone Rules Worthy of Your Attention at Nielsen’s Chat ’n Chew Café.

TAGS: Scouting Crops
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