Wednesday, April 19, 2017

High Tech farming

Drone Mapping Helps Catch a Major Aphid Infestation

Rupert— Dusty Wilkins of Rupert bought new equipment for the farm last year about this time.  

The tiny piece of equipment cost close to a thousand dollars and in the scheme of things not a major purchase, but it ended up saving him 50 times that.

The Rupert beet farmer told everyone he bought a Phantom 3 drone to map his fields, but he secretly wanted to fly the Snake River Canyon and get video of the all spectacular waterfalls. 

Wilkins got his video, but a short while later he finally flew the drone over the farm. 
And he also signed up with a high-tech Bay Area company called Drone Deploy. 

“You get a paid subscription with Drone Deploy, they call it Plant Health but its basically just NDVI, images. NDVI is short for Normalized difference vegetation index. With the video that I take, the software just filters out the colors and you can see whats going on with the plants in the fields,” said Wilkins.

Last July Wilkins harvested his barley and then flew a routine drone flight over his beet field across the road. Pests like aphids can live harmlessly in barley fields, but when the barley is cut, farmers have to keep an eye on neighboring fields because pests tend to migrate to greener pastures.

That night he uploaded images from the first beet field, a 26-acre plot that took just under twelve minutes to fly at 190 feet altitude. When he took a look on the laptop he was shocked at what he saw. This is a screen shot of the actual image:

The yellow and red areas show aphids covering the plants. Green sections indicate sprinkler lines.Wilkins couldn’t believe his eyes so he walked the field, finding the worst aphid infestation he’d seen. The plants were so completely covered with aphids, they turned his pant legs black with the bugs.

Without the drone mapping, Wilkins says his fertilizer agronomist would have found the pests. “But at this point of the season, we had full leaf row closure,” he said, “so walking through the field takes time and it’s really hard. The field man wouldn’t have picked up the infestation for a week," said Wilkins. Thanks, to the drone he was able to get a crop duster on the field in just a few hours.

“When I was looking at that video for the first time, I was thinking theres no way that this drone caught it at all. So after I physically went out and walked the fields I was thinking this was insane. I tell other farmers who have drones to get good a good drone and get software like DroneDeploy, so you can actually process the information you’re getting. A lot of people have drones and they go take a picture from 400 feet up and they have no idea what the picture means,”  added Wilkins, “and its worthless.

Because he caught the infestation before any real damage was done, Dusty got a head start on treatment and prevented significant loss of sugar content to his beets. A typical aphid infestation can cause up to a one-percent loss in the sugar content that amounts to a four-ton loss per acre. He figures with the exceptionally bad infestation he had last summer, he could easily have lost twice the amount of lost tonnage per acre had he not found infestation early. At $40 per ton, multiplied over 185 acres of beets, he could have been out at least $60,000 in lost revenue.

“So we did 17.3 in sugar content. It’s not bad, I was high on nitrates and that affected it. I wish there was a way to show the damage, like spray half a field, and the other side go, so we could see the actual damage data and calculate the loss. Theres no way to calculate damage and loss outside of a test plot, but we did okay with our beets thanks to the drone,” said Wilkins.

Wilkins will be using the drone this summer. He put 3-thousand miles on the Phantom 3, so this year he bought the updated Phantom 4 and is already mapping fields. He says can’t imagine not using a drone now to fight pests and help with fertilizer in his fields outside of Rupert.

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