Photos of crop lay-out and growing patterns have been used by farmers for more than 30 years.
But, these processes were used in the past, primarily, to correct problems for future growing seasons. Until recently, that is – when aerial imagery has developed into a pairing with analytics to make better in-season decisions possible that boost pounds and profit per acre. One farmer who uses the technology to his advantage has said that he’ll be able to fix problems before it’s too late and, “in today’s farm economy, every acre has to pull its own weight.” Multispectral sensors used in the imaging process can identify distressed plants, often before the human eye can detect problems. The sensors – RGB (red, green,blue), cholorphyull, thermal and NDV (normalized difference vegetation index) when combined with big data – of a scale, complexity and diversity not known previously – provide the ability to extract and manage hidden knowledge. These new techniques provide farmers with the opportunity to fertilize, irrigate, spray to kill weeds and ward off pests before they take a toll on yields. Specialists in the field say that six years ago, “you were just buying data or just a picture . . . but now products have developed that provide an easy button, giving analytics to go along with the image. The exciting thing today is you can point to in-season solutions,” (ref. Progressive Farmer). Iowa State University is using drone and imagery research to keep tabs on the thousands of acres of their cropped land. Imagery improvement from an acre-by-acre view to row-by-row and plant-by-plant views allows those in charge of farm production to better pinpoint problem areas in fields. Then, pairing high-resolution photos with past and current agronomic data provides better information to increase precision as well as the efficiency of farming operations (ref. Progressive Farmer). However, the experts warn, the “profitability of it paying is proportional to the producer engaging with the analytical information.” Companies who provide the imaging and analytic services say that their customers don’t necessarily want to see every image, but, instead, want to know when something needs to be addressed. Images reveal disease pressure, parasites and weeds and show where irrigation and fertilizer are over or underapplied. Irregular distribution of plants can also be spotted. The analytics and algorithms used in these processes, once up and running, highlight year-over-year trends during critical points of the growing season so that growers can use the information to develop and optimize management zones. Without a doubt, farming operations aren’t what they used to be – but better assisting with making all the moving parts of an operation work together is definitely the way to a successful operation.