Digital pictures: They’re worth a thousand steps!

Ground truthing is important, but aerial imagery can tell stories you can’t see with the eye!

You can’t beat an eye in the sky when it comes to telling you what’s happening on the ground with your crop, says a longtime Iowa crop management specialist.

Different types of aerial imagery that show visual differences during the growing season can be an extremely valuable tool for pointing to shortfalls or successes concerning everything from nutrient management, to misapplications with equipment, to weed and pest control problems, says Pat Reeg, operations manager with the On-Farm Network of the Iowa Soybean Association.

Reeg, who recently gave a presentation to a Tactical Farming Conference in Calgary says aerial imagery taken from a plane, helicopter or newer technology such as drones can tell a very clear and visual story about treatments that work or don’t work, or simply just raise a flag about some difference in the crop that needs to be checked out on the ground.

The Iowa association, which conducts a wide range of on-farm, field-scale research projects every year, relies on aerial imagery to provide a report card on different treatments applied in test strips as well as to show what is happening across a field — and actually the whole state, says Reeg. It is not necessarily brand new technology — some of it was developed by Kodak during WWII — but it isn’t likely technology that most individual farmers would own themselves. They are tools that can be used by an applied research association, or a crop consulting service as crops and field trails are evaluated during the growing season. In this new era of drones (also described as UAV’s — unmanned aerial vehicles) he says they can be useful in capturing images over a field or even a single farm, but for large areas, images collected from a manned aircraft is far more efficient.

“From these various forms of imagery you can tell a great deal about what is happening in a crop,” says Reeg. “If you are looking at on-farm test strips, you know where you applied treatments — is there a difference between that and untreated area? The imagery can show variations over a field, which relate to areas of different soil type, different nutrient levels or both. It is easy to identify areas of proper or misapplication of crop inputs,” and the list goes on. Another key piece of information is to know when the photo or image was taken — what point of the growing season.

He says aerial imagery is a valuable tool in reading one of the most important sensors on the farm — the plants themselves. “One of the most complex and best sensors we can utilize are the growing plant sensors in our fields,” he says. “A typical 80-acre field of soybeans has 12 million plant sensors. The potential to remote sense these plants and identify problems before visible to the human eye is just one of the many opportunities that remote sensing can potentially offer.”

Careers in Agriculture are endless…..and here is just one more facet that can be very valuable to the producers and farmers in your area!  For more information on a career in Aerial Imagery for Agriculture, contact Brad or Bryan at Great Plains Consulting today!!