Drone technology aids agriculture
Updated: May 10
The latest in technology to increase crop yields is now available in Norfolk County
The latest in technology to increase crop yields is now available in Norfolk County.
Drones are making the news every day as both sides are using the remote-controlled aircrafts in the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Many farmers may have an awareness of drones through the smaller models that were the rage when they first became affordable and people began to fly smaller ones.
Daryl Granger, co-owner of Rose-Le Studios in Simcoe with his wife Karen, started providing drone services for farmers in a roundabout way. During the shutdowns associated with COVID-19, Granger was looking for ideas to diversify his income.
“I was toying with the idea of doing drone work for a few years but with COVID, I said ‘That’s it’,” he recounted. “It was always in the back of my mind.”
Granger went at becoming a drone photographer full bore, becoming certified as an advanced certified commercial drone pilot. This wasn’t an easy process, requiring studying, two exams and a flight in front of a Transport Canada qualified examiner. With the advanced licensing, he can fly heavier equipment, in more airspaces, with fewer restrictions and is insured.
Originally, the plan was to fly drones for real estate photography and other jobs where aerial shots were needed.
Growing up in Delhi, Granger was the manager of Carmen’s FotoSource in Simcoe before purchasing Rose-Le in 2010. With knowledge of the area, he was familiar with Norfolk County’s agricultural heritage, worked in the fields for eight years and heard about drone photography to survey crop health.
“I’m in Ontario gardens so I thought this makes sense,” he said.
Granger spent a year flying and monitoring over different types of crops. He called it his research and development as he logged several hundred hours, learning not only more about flying but also the computer processing of the images that follows.
“Drone crop monitoring saves farmers money by enabling them to quickly identify problems that may have been missed without drone use. It could lead to thousands of dollars worth of lost crops due to issues that were not caught early enough on the ground,” he said.
With the times farmers are going into where fertilizer is more expensive and hard to get, plus other input costs rising, Granger believes this is the ideal time to utilize drone monitoring to increase efficiency.
“It’s going to be harder to get fertilizer so it should be put to its best use,” he said. “It’s one thing to look (at the crop) from a pick-up truck and everything looks green. From the air you can see the health of the plants.”
Granger explained this lets farmers see which parts of a field needs more or less fertilizer. It also provides insight into when animals or insects are eating the plants, washouts, areas where water is pooling, weed growth and disease.
“We can give the exact GPS location of those areas and you can walk to it with your phone in your hand with a GPS app,” Granger explained.
“Drones have revolutionized agriculture and are providing cost savings to farmers through enhanced efficiency,” he said. “In fact, drones can make a farm more profitable. By quickly surveying vast stretches of farmland, drones can map the property, report on crop health, improve spraying accuracy, and more.”
Farmers signing up for Rose-Le’s agriculture drone service receive imaging in several different views. These include RGB, multispectral views, 3-D and optical views. The customer receives results in jpeg and pdf. It’s possible to “zoom down to 10 plants.” Results are available 24 hours after the flight. The images also show elevation of the area for drainage.
“That helps when you are trying to figure out why this problem is happening,” he said.
The software even allows estimates of stand counts for corn to estimate potential yields.
Flying a farm isn’t as simple as pulling up and launching the drone. First, Granger must ascertain the air space he is flying in isn’t restricted, he must communicate with nearby airports, ensure there is no electrical high-voltage lines or other hazards, plus check weather conditions are right for flying. But with over 500 hours of flying he has become very knowledgeable.
Granger’s packages are set up with more flights earlier in the season when growth and crop health is most important and fewer later in the season. Costs are $20 to $25 per acre a season. In addition to cost savings from averting any small problems before they become larger, Granger believes money can be saved by not having workers manually walking the fields.
“It’s another tool,” he said. “They get another set of eyes. If they have to do field counts and put workers in, I can do it for the entire season for the cost of a single day’s labour (for multiple workers). It’s a cost savings.”
Rose-Le’s fleet currently has eight drones in different sizes that have different abilities. As for what the future holds, Granger is already eyeing up the possibility of using drones for aerial herbicide and pesticide application. At present, this is not approved in Canada but is in other countries.