Drones find their place on the farm

Ana Iverson  |  10/13/2016 6:53:27 PM

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This Pacesetter UAV captures the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), a measure of plant health. Photo by Dennis Burns

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LSU AgCenter agent Dennis Burns in Tensas Parish uses his drone to provide information for farmers to make better crop management decisions. Photo by R.L. Frazier

For several years drones – or unmanned aerial systems or vehicles – have been popular with hobbyists. But they are now making their presence known in the agriculture industry.

LSU AgCenter researchers and extension agents are looking at ways to use the technology to help farmers increase yields while decreasing their expenses.

“We’re using drones with an attached camera to detect weak spots in a field, whether it be flooded areas or areas with plant disease pressure,” said Dennis Burns, extension agent in Tensas Parish.

In soybean fields he is able to detect nematode damaged plants or the failure of irrigation practices.

“If you see an area in a soybean field with dead spots and suspect nematodes, then we can go into that field and pull a soil sample and verify the problem,” he said.

Some things farmers see from the drone’s cameras may not be things that can be fixed this season, he said. But the information prepares them for adjustments that may need to be made for next year’s crop.

Burns said the drones are fitted with Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) technology, which can provide a measure of plant health.

“The greener the plant is, the healthier it is,” Burns said. “NDVI can be used to examine uses for nitrogen fertility, to spot problems in fields and to measure irrigation efficiency.”

The photo is made by collecting an image that has a red color band and the near-infrared color band. The readings of these two bands are used in a formula to calculate NDVI, he said.

“Farmers are gradually getting into the use of drones” Burns said. “Some of the crop consultants are also seeing the value. But we are still in the learning process.”

With the recent flooding in north Louisiana, some growers were able to use their drones to give the insurance companies a bird’s eye view of the damage. Johnny Morgan


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