Drone technologies: what growers and ag professionals need to know

MSU experts to discuss Unmanned Aerial Systems for crop management at MSU Agriculture Innovation Day: Focus on Fruit and Vegetable Technologies on June 28, 2018.

Agriculture drone. Photo by: George Silva, MSU
Agriculture drone. Photo by: George Silva, MSU

The publicity surrounding Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS or “drones”) in agriculture has skyrocketed in recent years. High resolution aerial imagery has the potential to improve crop scouting, evaluate plant growth and stress in fields, accurately quantify crop damage, and even inform variable rate applications. While technological advances in drone platforms, sensors, and analytics continue to push the boundaries of what is possible and affordable, complexity and hype can also obscure reality.

Do you know enough about drones to decide if and how they might benefit your operation?

MSU experts will be on hand to demonstrate current UAS technologies and answer your questions during an interactive morning session at MSU Agriculture Innovation Day: Focus on Fruit and Vegetable Technologies.

Attendees will learn how drones compare to other options, including airplane and satellite-based imagery services. While the best platform will ultimately depend on your goals, requirements, and scale, UAS have the advantages of being able to collect detailed images, on short notice, and without interference from cloud cover.

Available drone platforms and sensors will be broken down by price point and capabilities. Attendees will learn what can be accomplished with standard (RGB) cameras, as well as how lightweight multispectral and thermal cameras may be used to improve our ability to detect differences in the field.  

While having well-timed overhead photos of a field can be useful alone, the true power of UAS imagery comes from the combination of GPS and analytics to turn pictures into data and decision-support. We’ll walk you through the nuts and bolts of this process, from flight planning to final product, used to accomplish tasks such as automated plant counts and quantification of crop damage.

Anyone who wants to fly a drone, particularly for business purposes, needs to be aware of the current Part 107 regulations from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, you also don’t have to own a drone or do the analysis yourself to work with UAS. We’ll discuss different ways to access the technology, from doing it all yourself to outsourcing all or part of the job to local and online service providers for drone flights and data analysis.

The potential benefits of UAS technologies are particularly strong for specialty crops (including fruits and vegetables) due in part to intensive management, higher gross returns, smaller acreages, and an emphasis on quality. However, some applications are farther along than others, and in general, more research is needed to better understand the return on investment for UAS-based management strategies.

Come learn what’s possible with drones today, and what may be possible in the years to come!

MSU Agriculture Innovation Day: Focus on Fruit and Vegetable Technologies, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. June 28 at the MSU Southwest Research and Extension Center in Benton Harbor, Michigan, offers a variety of fruit, vegetable and grape growing technologies, including the latest information on pollinators.  For detailed session descriptions, visit http://www.canr.msu.edu/msu_agriculture_innovation_day/ or contact Ron Bates at batesr@msu.edu.

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