The Mohawk Valley is one of just six locations in the country authorized to test drones. The new technology is expected to be used in just about every industry including agriculture, one of the largest fields here in Central New York.
Local farmers and agriculture experts say unmanned aircraft systems are changing the entire structure of their industry. The new technology is helping farmers monitor acres and acres of land and farmers here at home say they welcome the help.
As unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) become more advanced, experts say the use for drones will be wide-spread. One area in particular already putting the drones to use is the agriculture industry.
"If I had a crystal ball, I would absolutely be able to say, this is an industry that we can see a UAV platform on every farm across America,” said Lia Reich of PrecisionHawk.
One of those farms could one day be North Star Orchards in Westmoreland.
"I’m really excited about this period, as an orchard, I could manage it a little bit better with a UAS flying around taking pictures,” says George Joseph, Owner of North Star Orchards.
Joseph has about 200 acres of land and right now he has to monitor his fields manually either by foot or in his truck. He says with the use of unmanned aircraft systems that process can be eliminated and be done much more efficiently. He says an aerial view will help him keep an eye on the crops.
"Are the deer over in my Macintosh, my young planting, things like that, hail storm, is there hail in that part of the field, fly it up there quick, see if there is some damage there, there's a lot of opportunity,” said Joseph.
There is still a lot to learn about drones but one thing is for sure, the technology is taking industries to new heights.
"The potential is huge and the level of information that you can get from UAV technology in a cheaper and more efficient way is going to change the ways businesses operate,” said Reich.
Growing up on his family’s farm, Kyle Miller learned the art of reading crop leaves to detect issues such as nutrient deficiencies and infestations.
“My dad is a farmer, my grandpa is a farmer — farmers on the Miller side go back at least seven generations,” the 21-year-old college student said while looking out on an a sea of soybeans on the farm between Iowa City and Kalona last week.
But Miller is taking a new approach to crop scouting, and one that would no doubt seem more akin to science fiction than farming to those of previous generations.
For the past two months, Miller, a student at Dordt College in the northwest Iowa town of Sioux Center, has been flying a drone — technically an unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV — over his family’s farmstead and the research fields at his school. As part of his senior project, Miller has been testing the radio-controlled vehicle’s ability to monitor crop conditions using infrared cameras.
The pursuit combines Miller’s two areas of study, agribusiness and computer science, and signals the growing role that technology is playing on Iowa farms.
“I’ve been working in precision agriculture. I’ve also been doing GPS and auto-steer in tractors and combines, but this has really sparked my interest,” said Miller before firing up his drone for a demonstration flight.
Before takeoff, Miller programmed the small drone with his laptop, setting a series of waypoints for the aircraft to follow. He then attached the lightweight drone — about 6-feet wide and made up of foam and carbon fiber rods — to a long bungee cord, pulled it taught, and let it go.
The propeller whirred to life, the drone rocketed skyward and within seconds it was buzzing about 350 feet overhead, crisscrossing the fields and shooting photos every two seconds. Miller held a remote control to assist with the landing, but the route was otherwise dictated by his laptop via a radio signal.
The drone was equipped with a pair of cameras taking infrared images that are geotagged to map the farmland below. After several passes over the field, the aircraft landed in a soft cushion of soybean plants not far from his front door
Miller explained that the infrared images can tell him which areas may be nitrogen deficient down to the individual crop — an important tool for farmers who can then be more precise with their nutrient applications.
“It’s going to help us better understand what corn and soybean plants are going through, the different kinds of stresses,” Miller said.
Jerry Anderson, regional manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, said drones present a “huge potential” for agricultural use. Possible applications, experts say, include crop scouting, precision spraying, disease monitoring and livestock tracking, to name a few.
“You can overlay these with the mapping characteristics you can get from soil types and harvest maps, and you can literally farm by the foot and take action as you need to during the growing season and as conditions warrant,” Anderson said.
Miller serves as a field representative for Agribotix, a company based in Boulder, Colo., that leases agricultural drones and processes aerial images. The company has provided Miller with a drone, which he said contains about $8,000 in electronics, to test on his farm and at school. Miller also will represent the company at ag tradeshows and assist in product development.
Although Miller has been flying the aircraft over his family’s farm — about 1,400 acres between his father and uncle’s land — the Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates drone usage, prohibits them from to be flown commercially. That means while Miller feels comfortable flying the drone at home and at school, he is unable to use the drone to scout fields for other farmers as a business.
Miller said hopeful that new FAA regulations will be enacted next year and open the door to commercial possibilities, and he’s considering it as a potential career one day. The FAA has said it will issue new regulations for drones in 2015, and the rules are expected to allow for certain agricultural uses.
Miller sees drones becoming an important tool in crop management, if and when they get the green light from the FAA.
“If you’re able to detect with your agronomist what’s going to happen in your cornfield before it actually happens, you’re going to be able to stop disease issues, you’re going to be able to stop pests, or see if your corn or soybeans need different nutrients,” Miller said.
Likewise, Farm Bureau’s Anderson said while the cost could be a limiting factor initially, drones could one day be another beneficial piece of technology put to use on Iowa farms.
“There’s a tremendous amount of applications for the innovators, and farmers are always tinkering with devices,” Anderson said.
Reach Josh O’Leary at 887-5415 or email@example.com.
Precision agriculture has arrived. Driven by advances in Big Data, precision agriculture will have a marked impact on traditional approaches to farming land. Applying technological advances in data collection and geo-location, precision agriculture uses technology to optimise yield and detect operating efficiencies: this is technology that will tell farmers when is the best time to plant and when is the right time to start harvesting; that will take input costs down, negate environmental impact, reduce fuel and cut down on fatigue. Farmers across the globe are going to be challenged by this innovation in agriculture.
Early signs of precision agriculture included grid sampling, mapping for fertilizers, pH soil corrections and yield measurements. The advent of GPS with its accurate positioning and information systems pushed things on. Precision agriculture includes equipment-mounted hardware (such as GPS receivers), sensors and remote equipment that collect information which is then fed into a softwareenabled control system yielding data which can prompt any number of actions, including real-time adjustment of equipment and the creation of geospatial maps.
Current technologies include automatic steering systems, GPS guidance systems, yield monitors, variable rate applications for ‘field prescriptions’, precision seeding systems, optical crop sensing technology, farm management software, mobile applications and cloud-based infrastructure, and irrigation systems. These technologies have scaled rapidly due to changes in GPS accuracy. GPS used to have worldwide positioning accuracy within 10 to 15 meters; now, GPS systems provide accuracy within centimetres – a product of real-time kinematic positioning and other correctional services. The farmer is able to plant more accurately, reduce crop damage, define boundary outlines, conduct soil content analysis, and improve crop management and yield maps for managing fertilizers and pesticides.
The take-up by region
The precision agriculture industry is expected to grow at a rate of 10 to 15 per cent each year over the next five years.
At the moment the United States is leading the sector, alongside increasing signs of take-up in parts of Latin America, Europe and Asia. In the US, corn and soybean growers are adopting guidance and auto-steering solutions, while in Europe the focus rather is more on the efficient use of inputs to address environmental issues and combat the negative public perception of agriculture. In Latin America, Brazil is looking in particular at the impact of data and fleet-management software on the management of sugarcane crops.
Things look rather different in Asia, where the approach to agriculture is still largely based on small fields and traditional farming practices (despite escalating population growth) and there is little awareness of precision agriculture. There are some stirrings of change, however, with increasing interest in new, low-cost GPS and data management technologies. The key to Asia’s success is increasing awareness of precision agriculture options and benefits.
The benefits to farmers
One clear benefit of precision agriculture is cost savings on inputs. How soon the grower can reap the benefits will depend on which technology is being implemented. Some – such as auto steering and variable rate applications – are fast, easily put into use and provide immediate returns. Technologies such as yield mapping and soil analysis provide a slower return on investment.
Fertilizer is the highest variable cost for the farmer. Any technology that will help to mitigate this cost is going to be highly valued. Early examples of real-time innovations are variable rate fertilizer applications and field prescriptions. New technologies can produce detailed soil fertility maps, allowing for strategic placement of fertilizer components to optimize yield. The cost savings for the farmer can be felt both at initial input cost and in improved yield at harvest.
An underlying benefit is the saving on fuel costs – particularly important in Europe. Technologies that enable equipment to be used in a more precise way – such as auto steering guidance systems and variable rate planting – have as a by-product significantly lower fuel consumption.
Precision agriculture allows the grower to maximise yield. Seed is the farmer’s second highest variable cost – and the introduction of genetically modified seed has seen the cost of seed rise quite dramatically in recent years. Seed planting technologies (using GPS guidance systems and variable rate seeding technology) enable more accurate planting; as a result, the cost of the seed input can be reduced and yield (at harvest) increased.
There are added benefits around lifestyle and convenience. Auto-steering GPS guidance systems reduce operator fatigue and free up time for other tasks. Considerable time and energy can be saved through the use of mobile software applications and cloud-based innovations (enabling large quantities of data to be collected, analysed, stored, transferred and backed up in real time).
‘Prescient’ agriculture innovations allow for greater flexibility across all aspects of farming, as well as enhanced accuracy and data validation. This applies to decisions on when, how and what to plant and to financial projections, farm insurance and equipment life.
Changes in the marketplace
Through a series of acquisitions and partnerships, precision agriculture innovators and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) have aligned to provide a distribution network for the latest technologies.
There are now four contenders among the OEMs: Deere & Co, CNH Global (supported by Trimble Navigation), AGCO (supported by Topcon Positioning Systems) and Ag Leader/Novariant (supported by AutoFarm). The last three have aligned with leaders in precision agriculture innovation in order to remain competitive.
These alliances are taking the OEMs beyond hardware to integrated software and data management solutions. They also equip the precision agriculture innovator to focus on innovating (and not on the development of distribution networks or dealer channels). Each party can play to their core competences and reduce risk.
Alliances such as these are crucial to the growth of the precision agriculture sector. Their success will be measured on quality, ease of use, customer access via dealers and independent resellers, marketability and product support and training.
Good agricultural land is scarce and under constant threat of degradation or loss. Across the globe, precision agriculture’s promise of greater sustainability is attractive. Without Big Data, there would be no future for precision agriculture.
The hardware and software systems that are gathering data from the field are now moving to user-friendly data management systems which will assist farmers in their decisions (whether that be planting or insurance coverage). The intention is for the grower to become increasingly proactive.
Age is also going to play a major role in the adoption of innovative technologies. Younger farmers are more comfortable around technology and better educated about its benefits. In addition, as more leased farmland comes onto the market, young farmers will get greater access and more choices within the sector.
There will also be improvements on the equipment side. Remote monitoring and diagnostics innovations, for example, will allow for real-time troubleshooting of guidance systems, tractor and other equipment problems. Performance and efficiency should improve.
Optical crop sensing could be a gamechanging technology. This allows for seamless, site-specific application management. It addresses the shortcomings of current variable rate application systems by gathering infrared readings from optical sensors that are operational in any climate, day or night.
The unmanned aviation vehicle (UAV) sector is also one to watch. With a UAV, growers can monitor a wide variety of farm and field activities including moisture control, crop health and fertilizer dispersal. President Obama’s 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act seeks to integrate UAV into the national airspace by 2015. Currently, six domestic research sites are mandated with evaluating and developing UAV capability as novel high impact precision farming solutions.
Acquisitions, alliances and strategic partnerships will continue but within the software innovator sector. This sector can provide tremendous value to the precision agriculture industry, as these products are typically easy to integrate into existing systems while providing immediate benefit. The global market is primed for a spate of mergers and acquisitions as demand builds for more software technology, services, and increased profits for reinvestment into agriculture.
Market penetration in Latin America, Eastern Europe and China will deepen, as awareness in these regions increases and technologies become more affordable – and available. The precision agriculture solutions for each of these markets will be determined by the local mix of demographic, geographic and environmental factors, but site-specific accuracy, data-driven solutions and environmental issues will certainly be key concerns.
The key driver for change across all agriculture markets is profitability. In precision agriculture, each market has its own individual challenge. Latin America’s many crops and large labour force will support innovation of farm- and data-management software applications. Europe will remain focused on environmental impact and awareness. Asia’s challenge will be to increase yields to feed growing populations and to raise awareness of the innovations available to farmers.
Hopefully this paves the way for the Agricultural industry!
Please enjoy this article courtesy of Fast Company:
FLIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION! FAA GIVES HOLLYWOOD PERMISSION TO FLY DRONESIT'S OFFICIAL: DRONES ARE COMING TO HOLLYWOOD.
BY NEAL UNGERLEIDER
It’s official: The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given Hollywood the green light to use drone aircraft (properly known as unmanned autonomous vehicles, or UAVs) in the United States. On Thursday, the FAA granted exemptions to six different production companies that allow them to use drones for commercial purposes. Before this, the only for-profit use of drones legally permitted in the United States was for a handful of oil- and energy-industry projects in the Arctic.
The decision is the culmination of years of lobbying by drone enthusiasts, the aerospace industry, and the powerful Motion Picture Association of America. UAVs are frequently used for aerial film shots outside of the United States. Drone camera work (mainly for chase and fight scenes) has been used in movies from Skyfall to Wolf of Wall Street to the Harry Potter series; industry blog DroneLife has a useful guide to UAVs in the motion picture industry.
The six production companies, Aerial Mob, Astraeus Aerial, HeliVideo Productions, Pictorvision, RC Pro Productions Consulting, and Snaproll Media, are required to only use UAVs domestically for the creation of scripted content under heavy restrictions: Operators must hold pilots’ licenses and UAVs must weigh under 55 pounds.
MPAA chairman Chris Dodd was in attendance at the news conference where the FAA announced the waiver. In a prepared statement sent to Fast Company by the MPAA, Dodd said: “Today’s announcement is a victory for audiences everywhere as it gives filmmakers yet another way to push creative boundaries and create the kinds of scenes and shots we could only imagine just a few years ago. Our industry has a history of successfully using this innovative technology overseas--making movies like “Skyfall” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” to name a couple--and we are proud to now be on the leading edge of its safe commercial use here at home.”
Industry watchers expect the FAA to expand access to UAVs in the film industry over the coming years, which will be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, filmmakers will have the capability to create high-quality aerial photography for very little money. On the other hand, business will sharply decline for the crane operators and helicopter operators who currently dominate aerial photography in Hollywood.
UAV FILMMAKING IS BIG BUSINESS Fast Company spoke with principals with two of the UAV video companies the FAA granted waivers to today. Both were having extremely busy days, but were obviously happy about the new commercial opportunities for their businesses.
Tony Carmean of Aerial Mob said that the new ruling allows his company to “legitimately film a very narrow focus-scripted piece that's scripted--a commercial, TV show, or feature film in a very defined working area. It has to be a sterile, cordoned-off area with a perimeter. The biggest thing to do is to show we can do it safely.” Carmean’s company worked on a shoot in Mexico City earlier this month; his company originally applied for a FAA waiver on May 27, 2014. Aerial Mob’s clients include Chrysler, Tesla, the BBC, MTV, Adidas, and Harvard University.
Another filmmaker granted an exception, Eric Austin of HeliVideo, said the ruling would likely lead to an uptick in business. “Up until today, flying UAVs for commercial purposes was 'illegal' or not authorized by the FAA, which put serious pinch in the growth of our business since we could only operate outside of the country.” HeliVideo’s clients include Disney, NBCUniversal, CBS News, and HBO Sports.
Operating overseas is easier for many UAV filmmakers; the United States currently has one of the world's strictest set of rules on for-profit UAV use, though other countries have rules of their own. Chris Kippenberger, who heads up a Germany-based studio specializing in UAV shoots for automobile companies, told Fast Company that his country requires a lift-off authorization for every flight and has strict liability and frequency requirements.
NOT JUST HOLLYWOOD The FAA’s decision to allow UAVs for aerial commercial photography in the United States is the latest step in legislators’ efforts to integrate unmanned aircraft into America’s civilian airspace. As a result of more than a decade of technological innovation largely fuelled by the United States’ post-9/11 military adventures in the Middle East, aerospace advances originally used for warfare are being retooled and re-purposed for commercial and scientific purposes. UAVs can be amazing tools for the natural sciences thanks to sensors that can register all sorts of data from the environment. And as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos knows well,they’re also future game-changers when it comes to consumer deliveries.
While the entertainment industry has positioned themselves as one of the biggest test markets for commercial UAVs (alongside the energy industry), the real money-maker for drone manufacturers is in the world of agriculture. A growing discipline known as “precision agriculture” uses aerial sensors, often built into UAVs, to monitor water, fertilizer, pesticide, insect infestation, and other metrics across huge tracts of land. According to a report by UAV trade group Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), UAVs will have an impact of $82 billion by 2025--most of which will be in the agriculture sector.
Amazon.com and Warren Buffet’s freight giant BNSF Railway Company have also applied for UAV exemptions similar to the filmmakers’ from the FAA.