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Will ag scouting drones finally live up to their promises?

Drones can assist a good scouting program by quickly identifying areas that need a closer look.

I had planned to take a continuing education (CCH) class last month, but it filled up before I completed registration. That seems to have worked out just fine. Various times throughout the year, I check the Indiana Office of State Chemist website in order to see where classes are going to be held. Last week, when I checked, I found one class scheduled here in town.

Tuesday evening, I was able to slip in town to the extension office for the first of these classes. I always appreciate it when I can obtain CCH’s locally. The session was actually part of a ‘grow your operation’ series put on by local extension agents. This particular night, Purdue’s Bob Nielson was the speaker, so Extension put in a request to allow this session for credit. His area of expertise is corn production. If you want to check out some of his data, google ‘chat ‘n chew café’.

I felt the most interesting item discussed was scouting with drones. We know drones have been the rage for the past few years, but with clear FAA guidelines implemented, Purdue staff was finally allowed to use drones this past year.

Dr. Nielson gave a summary of what to look for in a drone and how to use it. He also recommended some apps/software that would ‘plan a mission’ that would instruct the drone to photograph the entire field. The images could be reviewed real time, and the drone could be deployed to do more discovery in problem areas.

We were also reminded that drones cannot replace boots on the ground… at least not yet! Sounds to me the drones can assist a good scouting program by quickly identifying areas that need a closer look. They would also be beneficial when the crops get too tall or tangled for scouts to do a good job.

The drone Dr. Nielson purchased cost about $1,500 and can fly for up to half an hour on one battery. The FAA requires operators to pass a 60-question test to become certified. This is required even for agriculture use.

Though the kids would like it, a drone isn’t on our list. Even so, I will have a discussion with the scouting company in hopes they implement more drone use.

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

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