For the first time during the Farm Progress Show there was a dedicated area for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the drones were grounded, but that did not stop me, or others, from learning about their precision ag applications and benefits. I spoke with Pat Lohman, VP of partnerships with PrecisionHawk, to learn more about UAVs. He said PrecisionHawk is a drone company, but they also put a lot of emphasis on the data analytics of the information they are collecting.
I asked Lohman how he thought drones will innovate the ag industry. He said that drones will help improve data already collected for things like plant health. But he thinks it’s the sensors that will innovate precision ag. “We’ve spent the last five or six years developing the technology so they fly consistently, and tell sensors how to collect data consistently. We’re also working on integrating ground penetration radar. Down the road we’re actually going to be looking at what’s underneath the earth that can tell us things like tiling that’s going wrong, or soil moisture,” Lohman answered.
Lohman also said drones will allow growers to look at things in different aspects. “For instance, explained Lohman, “we’ve built our cloud system called Data Mapper. It automatically processes images into maps which is very helpful because it helps scale technology. “There are different facets,” continued Lohman, “that in our eyes will come together and provide a lot of very specific information about what we’re looking at.”
He also noted that they are already playing a big role in how chemicals are prescribed on the farms. They are also working closely with university partners. “We really rely on our university partners who are building their own apps to actually identify very specific diseases and we essentially just match the sensor to the algorithm developed that shows that disease. Now all of a sudden we have a proactive tool to help us look and identify these diseases and where they are headed as far as direction.”
Speaking of universities, Kansas State University (KSU) has signed a research partnership with PrecisionHawk Inc. The four-year partnership, “Advancing an end-to-end solution for agricultural applications of unmanned aerial systems and remote sensing,” is kicking off this month. Under the project, a KSU agronomy expert along with researchers at K-State Salina are using their expertise to help PrecisionHawk create apps and programs that turn the aerial images of corn fields — and eventually other field crops — into useful data about a potential crop production issues, such as yield limiting factor, and characterization of yield potential, such as plant growth.
While regulations continue to be a challenge, Lohman hopes that by mid-next year there will be regulations that will allow someone to go out get some type of certification through a written test and go out and fly drones commercially and safely.
To learn more about PrecisionHawk and their ag-based UAVs, listen to my interview with Pat Lohmam: [wpaudio url=”http://traffic.libsyn.com/zimmcomm/fps-15-precisionhawk.mp3″ text=”Interview with Pat Lohman, PrecisionHawk”]