How are drones helping farmers keep an eye on crops?

Agriculture may be one of civilization’s earliest innovations, but today, drones and infrared technology are making farming a thing of the future. Where farmers once had to walk the lengths of their fields to look for pests, disease and water damage, drones are helping them monitor their crops from new heights.

TRANSCRIPT

Agriculture may be one of civilization's earliest innovations, but today drones and infrared technology are making farming a thing of the future.

Where farmers once had to walk the lengths of their fields to look for pests, disease, and water damage, drones are helping farmers monitor their crops from new heights.

[ Whirring ]

I was -- I was a non-family employee, became a partner, married Debbie Forbes, which her father, Fred, owned Forbes Farm.

We just merged these two farms three years ago.

So we currently milk 1,200 cows and farm 2,500 acres.

[ Equipment beeping ] I'm the crop manager here.

I plant the corn, plant the grass.

We have five employees that help in the field.

Dennis is a great customer of ours.

He started out by having some of the basic GPS on his machines.

I came aboard about four years ago and really got -- really educated him more, really got the most out of the technology, and he sees the value of it when he's out there in the field.

Technology is becoming a regular piece of farming -- whether it becomes tillage, planting, spraying, harvest, there are different pieces of technology that can be used throughout the entire cropping season.

This is just another tool that the farmers can kind of put in the toolbox to help them be proactive against their crops so they can be ahead of any outbreaks of pests, they can spot any water damage, compaction, really look at the field as a whole instead of walking in a few rows and just taking a look around to see, 'Okay, this looks pretty good here.'

Maybe it's good here, but he can't see the outbreak of aphids on the other side of the field there.

The drones will integrate right with his current GPS systems on the farm and be able to make prescriptions there in the wintertime to be able to stay ahead of things.

Drones are -- They're a thing of the future.

It's all about efficiency.

It's a lot faster to fly a drone over a field than it is to walk 1,250 acres of corn.

It's impossible to walk it all.

You can fly it and see it in one day.

Well, during the growing season, after the corn or any other crop gets above the ground and starts to be emergent, we can start to use this technology.

What we're gonna do is we're gonna sit in our office, and we're gonna go pull up on the computer program that comes with -- We're gonna lay out a route.

Where do we want this to fly?

And it will autopilot.

We're gonna take it out to the field.

We're gonna turn it on.

We're gonna hit 'Go.'

It's gonna take off.

It's gonna fly a route over the cornfield, taking pictures every two seconds.

On the drone, it comes with an infrared camera and a visual-eye camera, okay?

They're both taking pictures at the same time.

Now, what I can do is mesh those together -- is what's gonna give me the shader.

I can then take these images, download them into the software, and stitch it to one large picture.

Anything that's gonna show up as green, it's gonna be a healthy crop -- it's good photosynthesis.

Anything that shows up with yellow, you're getting some light reflected back.

You've got some bare ground.

You have some stress.

Red -- you've got a real problem.

So, after you take this information, you can look at it.

You can go out there and spot-check, look exactly where these problems are.

You can take the drone and zoom right down on top of it.

Is it an insect problem?

Is it water?

Is it compaction?

You can make a proactive plan after that to try to get ahead of the problem before it becomes a permanent yield handicap.

Some of the things that we found with the drones are drainage issues, lack of nutrients, disease in the corn.

This is really difficult for a lot of customers to actually take a hold of and grasp.

A lot of farmers don't want the computer to tell them what to do.

'A computer's not gonna tell me how to farm.

It's not gonna tell me how to drive a tractor.'

They have to really take a look and see where their deficiencies are.

Where can they save some money from their wastes, from their costs right now?

When I can take this technology, show up to somebody's farm who's on the fence, and show them what they're missing, what -- 'Here's where we can save money -- here's where you're losing money' -- put a dollar sign onto it, that's the key right there to really getting guys to take this.

If you can say, 'In 18 months, you're gonna pay back your entire investment into this system,' boy, that doesn't really hold them back very much from making the purchase.

The corn is actually better than I thought it was gonna be.

It was so wet early on, we were pretty worried.

All the new technology is making farming easier.

You know, we have auto-steer on tractors.

We push a button.

It steers itself for us.

You got drones.

You got yield monitors on the chopper that can actually map the different yields, lay it over maps for soil type and... No, technology is a great thing for the dairy industry.

That's how we can produce... That's how we're gonna feed the world.

I think in about five years, you're gonna see this is a regular technology on a lot of your larger farms -- both your dairies and your crop farms.

There's a place for these in orchards and your niche crops, your vegetables, where you've got more of a higher commodity per capita.

Within 10 years, you're gonna see a lot of ASPs, ag service providers, coming out and doing this as a service.

You know, possibly Caz Equipment as one of them.

This doesn't -- This is not a job to me.

This is -- I don't look at this as a job.

I come here.

I get scheduled days off, but I actually come here most times on my days off.

This is -- I enjoy doing this.

And it's not a job to me.

It's a lifestyle.