From Pre-Planting to Post-Harvest: Harnessing the Power of Drones Year Round

February 23, 2018

In a few short weeks, the harvest will end. Listen carefully, and you’ll soon hear the collective sigh of relief coming from fields and farmhouses everywhere. Time to clean up the combine, service the tractor, and take stock of the past six months. But wait a minute. There are a plethora of ways to put drone technology to work between now and April. From scouting for weeds to assessing drainage tiles, growers are increasingly using drone services as an indispensable, year-round field management tool.

Here are some of the best ways to harness the power of drones all year long.

Assess Irrigation Systems and Drainage Tiles with Drone Maps

Before the ground freezes, chances are you’ll spend time repairing drainage tiles and optimizing irrigation systems. Why not make your work more efficient, and more effective, by firing up the drone first? A bare earth map is a great way to catch drainage and irrigation issues early, before they turn into bigger problems next growing season.

Subsurface drainage tiles

To best view drainage tiles, map your field in the morning after a rain, when the soil is still wet but beginning to dry out. In the [RGB] imagery above, the red areas are the driest and the green areas are still relatively wet, signifying that they might not be draining as fast as the rest of the field.

An elevation map is also a useful tool here. Although a standard drone map (without the use of ground control points) shouldn’t be used to determine the actual coordinates for laying drainage tiles, it can still help you assess how a field slopes, decide if tile is needed, and make a general plan for the location and number of tiles.

An elevation map helps assess the slope of a field, decide if new drainage tile is needed, and make a general plan for the location and number of tiles
An elevation map helps assess the slope of a field, decide if new drainage tile is needed, and make a general plan for the location and number of tiles

Integrate drone maps with other field data

If you want to dial down even further, compare your drone maps with other information, like harvest, yield, variety, and spraying maps. All of this is done seamlessly by importing field maps from software directly into ConnexiCore Cloud. Or, if you need to use the built-in tools from another platform, you can also export orthomosaic, plant health, and elevation maps.

Scan Soil to Detect Pre-Season Issues

As spring arrives and planting approaches, it’s a good idea to map your bare field one last time. A pre-season barren earth map, combined with targeted ground-truthing, can help you understand what pests and weeds have come up as a result of heavy rains or severe weather. And, if any issues do exist, you can use Volatus Unmanned Services plant health tools to assess how much treatment to order and where to apply it. When it comes time to plant, you’ll come back to the field with a little more confidence in its overall health.

Prepare for the Coming Months with a Seasonal Flight Plan

Just as the off-season is the time to take stock of equipment, maintenance, and staffing needs, it’s also the time to create a seasonal flight plan. Flying at regular intervals creates a consistent record of what a field looks like over time and gives you more information to work with when it comes time to make those big, mid-season decisions. If you go into the busiest months with a pre-established calendar, you’ll be more likely to stay consistent even when things get busy.

So exactly how often should you fly your fields? This varies depending on your situation, but in general, consider the value of a crop and the distance of the field from your headquarters. Strive for flying the most convenient and high-value crops each week, and the less convenient crops biweekly. Hopefully, we’ve given you a few new ideas to leverage drone services on the farm all year round. However, you choose to use your drone this fall and winter, one thing is certain: you’ll return next season a little more prepared, and ready to dive in when it really counts.

Picture of  Frank Segarra

Frank Segarra

Frank Segarra is the Senior Vice President of Sales at Volatus Unmanned Services. He has over 30 years of IT, telecommunications and aviation industry experience and was a US Navy aircraft carrier airman specializing in Avionics Engineering. As a thought leader in drone technology, Frank was invited to be a founding member and co-chair of the CompTIA Drone Advisory Council. and is on the Board of Advisors for the PA Drone Association.

ConnexiCore is now Volatus Unmanned Services.