Farming by Drone?


    Farming has changed over the years.  In the 1980’s farmers and Universities were just starting to research the use of GPS in making both input decisions, both for financial and ecological responsibility.  With fewer inputs going into the ground, or on the crops, that blanket of pesticide or fertilizer became a much smaller footprint, and only targeted the area of the field that showed a need through satellite imagery. That model has been the norm for the last 20 years in most places.


     Enter the Drone.  The next phase of fighting overuse and overspending on chemicals has come in the shape of a fairly small piece of equipment that can be flown by the farmer.  As he is scouting his field with the aid of the eyes in the sky, he or she, [Yes, girls farm, too.] can detect an infestation of pests, or figure out if the wind that ripped through in the latest storm could cause him to have to replant the entire field.  Having an eye above is something that could be quite handy.

     The next bit of research to come is how to use the Drone to be an actual ‘micro spray rig’.  The photo above is of a drone spraying pesticide on potatoes.  While it might take a much bigger drone to spray a cotton field, the technology is there - and as farmers have always been on the front of technology, we don’t expect them to be different now.  MIT has even been using drones to plant crops, with an expected savings of up to 85% on inputs.  


     While the research continues, it’s feasible now to use drones for crop health monitoring. The  University of Tennessee at Martin has its own drone program.  If you have questions, or want more information, the graduate student who is doing a lot of work is Patton Webb, of Milan.  After earning his bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Tennessee at Martin in 2015, Webb took a job on the UT Martin farm.    Webb, now a UT Martin graduate student, operates an unmanned aerial system, which includes not only a drone but a camera and other equipment as well. The system is used to monitor and evaluate row crops and cattle herds on the UT Martin farm, as well as provide assistance to small farmers in the area. 

     “If you have row crops and you’re trying to assess your crop health, the only imagery you have might be dated two weeks or a month before from a satellite. But with a UAV[Drone], you can have imagery from that day,” explained Webb. “At any point that you want to assess your crop health, you’re at an advantage with an aerial view. That allows you to see 100 percent as opposed to what you can see on the ground, which is usually less than 10 percent.”


     As we said, American Farmers have become experts on efficiency because they’ve had to, but this might actually get them the technology they need to be on top.  Replacing a $190,000 piece of equipment with a drone that might cost around $15,000….might have some great economic implications in the life of the family farm.  Sure, it won’t have a 90 foot boom, and might take a little longer - but if it gets the job done less expensively?