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Question about the usefulness of drones in production agriculture?
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Posted 1/23/2020 15:56 (#7995149 - in reply to #7983659)
Subject: RE: Question about the usefulness of drones in production agriculture?

WC Mn/Dakotas
Post jamestown precision ag summit thoughts

Not practical at all and nearly as far away from reality today as 5 years ago.

Gary's perspective is always good and useful. Had another section with ndsu and their 35ft military drone work, a plane based, and a satellite based panel. Resolution is a key component, but knowing how you want to use the imagery and knowing how your software performs its magic is critical.

If you want to build zones or apply nitrogen you dont want cm resolution. 5-10meter is going to be much better for these kinds of tasks. Plane based can do stand counts too.

Then the time to gather and process this data is big. And to process numerous and high resolution means big software which means big computer. A plane can get higher and use a single image for a whole field. A satellite can get sub foot resolution in a civilian system.

A drone is great for curiosity and then go look from the ground. Scouting tool. They are good cheap aircraft to do r&d on things on a lower budget. Great for small scale quick turn around testing and tweaking. They would let a grower go look at a small handful of fields, but not the whole farm. When things get figured out, scale it up and put it on a manned aircraft.

But my overall summary is a drone just can't compete with a plane on so many levels when it comes to any amount of volume of work. Can use any drone sensor TODAY on a plane, not maybe 5 years from now. Can use larger, better, more numerous sensors on a plane. A plane can fly at 50ft or 25000ft depending on what your after. Can go 50mph or 350mph. I know a guy that has gone out and imaged 2-3 million acres in 1 day and has the software/computer to turn those images into vrt prescriptions by the next morning. That's actionable!

Days when you want to capture an image are often few and you need to hustle and get all your fields done with similar sun angles, no cloud shadows, etc. Then you often deal with winds. The smaller, lighter, less wing span aircraft, the less stable of a platform you have and the lower your max operating wind speed is going to be. All these factors combine to erode your ability to get much done or done accurately. Yes on paper it looks like a drone could perform bigger quanties of missions in a perfect world, but in the real world it just doesn't pan out. A good usable capable drone is not cheap. A swarm of these will rival or exceed a real plane cost.

On the spraying front there are a few good uses, but again in the real world largely not practical in the U.S. setting. Any drone tech is already or can be on manned spray craft. If you think its hard to get faa approval, wait until you try to get EPA labels changed to legally apply low rates. And the cost of that re labeling will get added to chemical costs, all chemicals for everyone on every acre, not just drone acres. Then most people believe you need coverage by high volume, not low volume of aerial apps, especially of not ultra low volume of a drone.

I just shake my head watching videos of quads spraying, bouncing around in a light breeze, flipping the spray pattern this way and that. Wing vortices rolling off. 30 years ago planes had nozzles out to the ends of the wings. Today we know we get better patterns with less drift by limiting nozzles to about 60% of the wing span. It would be a disaster sending most of these drones into truely sensitive areas the way they are set up in all these videos. Way too many details of modern aerial applications have not been "figured out" yet in the drone world.

Drones are a couple decades away in the avg daily use on anything resembling commercial or widespread use.
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