Precision Ag From The Air

Chuck Zimmerman

Indiana Unmanned Aircraft Systems PlaneIndiana Unmanned Aircraft Systems is taking precision to the air with a successful test flight. This is a picture of one of their units from their website.

Indiana Unmanned Aircraft Systems (IUAS), a Muncie, Indiana based aerospace company and manufacturer of small unmanned aircraft systems, announced the first successful test flight of its Im VII Air Vehicle Two (Im VII AV-2) took place on Saturday, November 8.

Im VII AV-2 represents over six years of research and development into small flying wing aircraft that do not require an onboard flight computer to remain stable in the air. The company is the only designer and manufacturer of all-wing aircraft developed specifically for precision agriculture imaging applications. “Our all-wing platforms are world leaders in payload lifting and flight endurance capability as compared to similar-size aircraft of conventional designs,” says Jeff Imel designer of the Im VII and company founder.

The aircraft is integrated to hyper-spectral cameras for use in precision agriculture image capture and analysis. The images are used by growers to determine the health of their crops, insect infestation, storm damage assessment and nitrogen run-off analysis. IUAS will be working with universities, agriculture business, and farmers across the state of Indiana.

Aerial Imagery

Precision Ag Can Help Harvest Down Corn

Chuck Zimmerman

Laura RobsonAt the National Association of Farm Broadcasting convention in Kansas City last week I spoke once again with Laura Robson, Senior Marketing Manager, John Deere. This is actually a picture of Laura from Commodity Classic earlier this year.

I asked Laura what Deere is doing in the precision area that will help farmers who are still trying to get their corn out of the field since it has been a wet, late season for so many in the midwest. She says that producers might want to look at Auto Trac Row Sense. It uses mechanical feelers on the corn head in conjunction with automatic guidance to guide the head precisely down the row. She says this is especially useful for down corn which has been a problem in areas hard hit recently by high winds.

You can listen to my interview with Laura here: Laura Robson Interview

Audio, Corn

Automated Systems For Apples and Oranges

Chuck Zimmerman

CarnegieMellon UniversityIt looks like more precision equipment is coming to apple and orange growers. You may not want to compare them except when it comes to the equipment you use to grow them though.

Two groups of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute have received a total of $10 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to build automated farming systems. One is for apple growers and one is for orange growers, but both are designed to improve fruit quality and lower production costs.

The systems use sensors on autonomous robotic vehicles or at fixed sites within the orchards to gather a multitude of data about tree health and crop status. Robotic vehicles will be used to administer precise amounts of water or agricultural chemicals to specific areas or trees. The vehicles also will be used to automate routine tasks such as mowing between tree rows.

The projects were funded this fall through the USDA’s new Specialty Crop Research Initiative. The Comprehensive Automation for Specialty Crops (CASC) Program, led by Sanjiv Singh, research professor of robotics, received a four-year, $6 million grant to develop systems for the apple industry. The Integrated Automation for Sustainable Specialty Crop Farming Project, led by Tony Stentz and Herman Herman of the Robotics Institute’s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC), received a three-year, $4 million grant to develop systems for the citrus industry. Both project grants will be matched dollar for dollar by industry, state governments and other funding sources.Read More

Equipment, University

Precision Myth Busting #3

Cindy Zimmerman

Raj KhoslaThis is the third and final precision farming myth busted by Raj Khosla of Colorado State University. You could call this one the money myth – and the whole basis of

jd bankMYTH 3: Precision farming will not pay for itself

First of all, Khosla points out that “precision farming is not just the addition of new technologies, but is rather an information revolution, made possible by new technologies that result in a higher, more precise farm management system. To this end, precision farming can be applied at with any level of technology and at any field scale.”

Producers that have used precision farming for several years have paid for the initial equipment investment through increased farm profitability and productivity. How long it takes to pay for itself will depend entirely upon how much capital was initially invested and the type and scale of the farming operation.

A recent study from Colorado State University indicated that precision farming practices can result in as much as $71 more return per acre when compared to traditional farming practices. In their study, the researchers used a method of varying N fertilizer that is based on black-and-white aerial photographs combined with the farmer’s past management experience. Other than the time required to obtain a black-and-white aerial photograph (aerial photos are free-of-charge from the Farm Service Agency or the NRCS District Conservationist) and for the farmer to identify the areas on the photograph that were high and low yielding, very little time and money was required to create a prescription nutrient map. Hence, precision farming can and does pay for itself. Like any technological tool, one needs to assess which particular tool or technique would bring about the most benefit. Again, this depends on the type and scale of the operation. A “one-size-fits-all” approach does not fit in with precision farming.

Read all of Khosla’s article “Myths of Precision Farming” here.

Education, University

Precision Myth Busting #2

Cindy Zimmerman

Raj Khosla Here is the second myth busted by precision farming specialist Raj Khosla with Colorado State University in CSU’s May-July Agronomy Newsletter.

precision farmerMYTH 2: Precision farming is too difficult to implement

Khosla says it’s not the physical implementation of precision farming that’s difficult, it’s opening one’s mind to change. “There is a steep learning curve with precision farming. But, once in place, precision farming can actually make your farming operation “easier” than it was before adopting it.” Before deciding it is too difficult, he urges farmers to consider the benefits, such as less time in the tractor, lower fuel costs and increased fertilizer-use efficiency.

Every producer knows that the entire field doesn’t yield the same all the way across. There is always that area of the field that just doesn’t yield, no matter how much N and/or water are put on. Agronomists have addressed this and in doing so, have turned traditional wisdom upside down with their unique approach to fertilizer management by viewing each part of the field as a potential investment. Only those areas of the field that are sound investments (i.e., have high productivity potential) receive a high amount of input. In contrast the poor investments (i.e., areas of the field that have a low productivity potential) receive very little, if any input; why invest in something that won’t give you a return? This strategy is known as “site-specific” and has been used widely in conjunction with management zones. The bottom line of this approach is that the total amount of input to be applied to a field is redistributed such that the areas of greatest potential receive the most and visa-versa.

Education, University

Precision Myth Busting #1

Cindy Zimmerman

Raj Khosla Soil and crop science associate professor Raj Khosla with Colorado State University recently busted a few myths about precision farming in an article for CSU’s Agronomy Newsletter.

gridMYTH 1: Precision farming is grid sampling

While it is true that grid sampling was among the first few methods that the precision farming community (i.e., early adaptors) used to develop variability maps of crop production fields, precision farming does not rely on or even require grid sampling. What precision farming could do is precisely and accurately: (i) identify variability and its cause, (ii) quantify variability and its scale, (iii) record variability and its location, and (iv) map variability so that it can be managed. Grid soil sampling is only one such technique of quantifying variability; however, there are many other less expensive techniques available.

Currently there are several precision farming tools and techniques of varying input that do not involve grid sampling. These include, but are not limited to, site-specific management zones, remote sensing, apparent soil electrical conductivity measurements, yield mapping, and smart sampling. In fact, many of these methods were developed specifically to replace grid sampling. These methods run the gambit from low-tech and inexpensive to state-of-the-art sensors that can detect the nutrient status of a crop and vary the rate of fertilizer or other input on-the-go.

More myth-busting to come!

Education, University

The Five “R’s” of Precision

Cindy Zimmerman

Once upon a time, education was based on the three “R’s” – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic. According to Colorado State University soil and crop science associate professor Raj Khosla, precision farming is based on five “R’s” – which really are R’s!

Raj KhoslaKhosla points out that precision farming is not a new branch or way of farming but “with increased globalization occurring in every sector of our economy, today’s farmer needs to produce better, greater, cheaper, and faster in order to remain viable. Precision farming can help today’s farmer meet these new challenges by applying the Right input, in the Right amount, to the Right place, at the Right time, and in the Right manner. The importance and success of precision farming lies in these five “R’s”.”

Khosla recently addressed some of the most commons myths about precision farming. We’re going to take a look at those in a series of posts coming up here on


Precision Ag In The News

Chuck Zimmerman

Those California wine makers sure seem to get it when it comes to precision agriculture. Here’s a story about how they do in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Did you know that precision farming played a role in today’s Wine of the Week winner, Iron Horse Vineyards’ 2005 Wedding Cuvée Blanc de Noir?

The winery has a plane fly over its vineyards twice a year to gather information with infrared photography about how the vegetation varies from block to block and even row to row.

Lawrence Sterling, operations manager, said from a winemaker and grower’s point of view, such variability is “the most challenging” aspect of making wine. The data collected helps the winery chart where and when to pick. It also helps with farming decisions such as irrigation and cover crop planting.

You can watch a video of the story with this link. Or right here:

Precision Ag in the News

Harvest Corn Cobs For Cellulosic Ethanol

Chuck Zimmerman

John Deere Corn Cob HarvestingUtilizing precision farming equipment when you’re harvesting corn will pay off even more once you can start harvesting corn cobs for cellulosic ethanol production. That’s what I learned at POET’s Project LIBERTY field day in Emmetsburg, IA this week. POET is working with ag OEM’s like John Deere to develop harvest equipment to collect cobs for the plants they plan on building in the near future. They plan to begin building a cellulosic ethanol production component of their Emmetsburg plant in late 2009 with production expected to begin in 2011.

Of the current options for harvesting/collecting the cobs, Deere is working on the corn cob mix kit (CCM) option. It’s basically an attachment to the combine according to John Deere’s Barry Nelson, who was attending the POET Project LIBERTY field day.

Barry says that this will allow farmers to produce up to 11 percent more ethanol per acre. That’s a pretty good gain in efficiency. He says they’re also looking at other equipment options including a special cart or new combine.

You can listen to my interview with Barry here: [audio:]

Project LIBERTY Field Day Photo Album

Audio, Equipment, Ethanol

Precision Cotton Farming

Cindy Zimmerman

Cotton Crop Management SeminarEd Barnes Cotton IncPrecision cotton farming will be a focus of the upcoming Cotton Incorporated crop management seminar and workshops.

Randall Weiseman with Southeast Agnet recently interviewed Cotton Inc Director of Agricultural Research Ed Barnes about the event being held in Tunica, Mississippi on November 11-13. “We’ll actually have a hands-on seminar on how to do precision fertility management, how to collect soil samples with GPS, ” said Barnes. “For someone who is more experienced we’ll have a detailed seminar on how to transition to zone management and cut down your number of samples.”

More information is available on the Cotton Incorporated website.

Listen to Randall’s interview with Ed here:

Audio, Events, General