Even with decades of experience, farming is still an unpredictable profession.
Aside from factors like the weather, the unpredictability can vary from field-to-field or even in different parts of the same field.
The Precision Ag Program at Northern Country Co-op in Stacyville, Iowa has the ability to tell farmers why parts of their fields may grow differently than other areas, all with the help of a drone.
"We’re using UAVs to try to look at the crop," said Precision Agriculture Specialist Herb Dowse.
These unmanned aerial vehicles use infrared technology to detect problems in crops.
"We’re looking for deficiencies in nitrogen, fertilizer application, growth stress, heat stress, water stress," said Dowse.
The goal is to help farmers better understand their fields and make the most of their resources.
"We’ve always had yield maps and stuff but it doesn’t tell you the whole story," said Dowse. "You get the story at the end of the season, where, with this imagery, we’ve been able to correct problems before that. So we’re able to get the customer a better crop and understand why some yields, or some parts of the field might have yielded poorly."
The work isn’t over after an UAV maps out a field.
"You fly over it with an UAV, but you’re still going to scout it by hand," said Dowse. "We still put boots on the ground, it’s not just a picture and it tells the whole story. That’s why we still physically do tissue tests and soil testing."
"More information is always better," said farmer Richard Rohrer.
The data helps Rohrer better manage resources, spend money wisely, and help identify those trouble spots in his fields.
"They’ve highlighted some suspicions we’ve had about some farms and highlighted other things that we didn’t really know," said Rohrer. "Flying with a drone gives you that birds-eye view that you can see things happen before you can actually see it with your eyes. It’s helpful. It gives you more time to correct a problem before yield losses occur."
The technology can also be used to check on any storm damage to crops in a field.
Precision Ag services farmers mainly in northern Iowa and Southern Minnesota, but will also travel to other parts of the country.