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Technology in Agriculture

Technology in Agriculture

County Agent News
Dan Folske
July 28, 2014

Technology in Agriculture

Agriculture has seen big changes in the last 100 years. From horses to steam engines, to gas tractors, and then, to diesel tractors. From hand spreading of seed to horse drawn drills 10 to 12 feet wide to airseeders nearly 100 feet wide. From large threshing crews, to combines with single operators harvesting more acres per hour than a single homesteader might have done in a season. And the changes keep coming more rapidly all the time!

Harvesting technology has gone from simple mechanically actuated warning lights for plugged straw choppers in the early 70’s to computer systems which monitor grain moisture and yields on the go combined with GPS technology to create yield maps of fields which can be used to help plan next year’s fertility programs. GPS systems have gone from light bar or directional arrow guidance systems to full auto steer and even driverless tractors.  Aerial photography used to measure acreage has gone to satellite images in various modes which can indicate drought and other stress issues of crops. Now we are coming back from satellite to aerial photography using unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV’s. From radio controlled model airplanes mounting small digital cameras to fully autonomous drones with a variety of visible light, infrared, and heat sensing cameras producers are now using this technology for making daily farm management decisions. Current FAA regulations regarding the use of UAVs limit their use to hobbyists and a few especially permitted research locations. While not yet widely adapted some producers are using the hobby rules to use UAV’s for crop scouting and checking livestock. With prices starting around $1000 for a small foam aircraft with an autopilot and camera it is easy to get started.

The potential uses of these UAV’s are limited only by your imagination and by 

FAA regulations. Let’s brainstorm a little: Stand counts- high resolution cameras combined with the right software may be able to provide accurate stand counts to help with decisions like in crop fertilizer applications or replanting decisions for winter wheat fields or in any crop after poor emergence problems. Analyzing color variations may provide site specific maps for variable rate fertilizer applications. Analysis after a hail storm may quickly provide information for insurance adjustments or aid in deciding to terminate a crop or let it go to maturity. A cattleman may combine heat sensing with RFID technology to identify an animal with an elevated body temperature before visible symptoms reveal a sick animal. A quick flight after a bad storm may identify an animal which has died from a lightning strike in pastures which are difficult to monitor from ground level. An automated flight several times in a day may detect cows with a slightly elevated temperature indicating they are coming into “heat” for breeding.

Don’t see yourself using these tools or operating a UAV? You probably didn’t expect to have and use auto steer on your tractor or combine 15 years ago either!

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