Drones on Today’s SMART Farm - Food Dialogues

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Drones on Today’s SMART Farm

Farmers and ranchers use drones on today’s SMART Farm for a variety of reasons. Drones perform precise soil analysis, check for plant health, show where to spray and identify where to irrigate.

Ohio farmer Emily Buck, Ph.D., operates her drone in the field to perform soil analysis and identify where to irrigate and apply inputs in a precise manner.

More and more startups in Silicon Valley are creating new innovations in the ag tech space. Forbes recently published ‘This Startup Just Raised $1.1 Million To Build Better Data Platforms For Farmers,’ which explores how certain companies focus on optimizing irrigation and predicting yields for high-value crops to benefit both the environment and the farmer.

I farm with my husband John on our no-till farmland near Columbus, Ohio, in the Lake Erie and the Mississippi River watersheds, and we’ve used drone technology on our farm for two years. We grow crops and raise 40 Southdown ewes. We use drones to scout our corn and soybean fields, and we have really benefitted from the technology.

We wanted to try drones for a few reasons.  Partially, since I teach photography and videography at Ohio State University, I wanted to have the experience to teach students about this new technology.  Also, we knew other farmers using them, so we saw their value.

One of the benefits of an aerial view is that we can monitor the crops without damaging them.

Last spring, we planted corn, then had substantial rain impact the farm. While we stood at the road, looking at the field, it looked like the crop wasn’t going to make it and we thought we would have to replant.  We decided to fly the drone to see farther into the field, and beyond the 100 feet by the road, everything looked great compared to the perimeter.

We saved so much – we didn’t compact the soil and damage the crop by driving into the field. We didn’t get the tractors ready, and we didn’t buy more seed.  Using drones was a real time and money-saver, and better for the environment.

Using drones also helps us do more with less, in conserving resources. Since you can’t see much in a corn field, farmers can use drones to check on weed and insect pressure. That way, if certain parts of the crop are affected, you can spray specific areas and not the entire field.

We plan on further maximizing the potential of our drone in the future, in addition to other technologies. Currently, the infrared filters can gather important information out of our fields, like where there are more weeds or where more energy is being used.  When it comes to precision farming, the GPS monitors in our tractors and combines has allowed us to make the best year-to-year decisions, apply fertilizers and pesticides more precisely, and make the most sustainably and economically sound decisions.  We like keeping up with technological advances to enhance our land for future generations.

Emily Buck, Ph.D., farms with her husband, John, and daughter on their 1,000 acres of no-till farmland near Columbus, Ohio in the Lake Erie and the Mississippi River watersheds. They farm corn, soybeans, and a flock of 40 Southdown ewes. Emily is also an associate professor of agricultural communication at The Ohio State University and serves as one of the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance’s (USFRA) Faces of Farming & Ranching.

All opinions expressed are the writer’s own. Funded by one or more checkoff programs.