Drone program improves agronomic precision

Drones becoming widespread tool for crop health assessment

Drone program improves agronomic precision
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A new drone initiative at Corteva Agriscience, called Drone Deploy, helps growers locate problem areas in-field early on to assist in maximizing yields.

Why it matters: New technologies have to prove themselves and software is making drones more useful each year.

Corteva Flight is the first of several software options accessible by Pioneer customers.

Dave Hardwood, technical services manager with Corteva Agriscience, says it is the only drone fleet in Canada to do stand assessments.

With the improvement of software to the point where image recognition is highly reliable, and the Canadian regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) becoming more predictable, Corteva purchased the fleet of drones in the late summer of 2019, two years behind their American colleagues. It’s expected most Pioneer sales staff will eventually be using drones.

“As of last year, drone operators must obtain a basic certification from Transport Canada, prior to that you nearly had to be a helicopter pilot to operate them.”

Chris Olbach, an agronomist for Corteva Agriscience’s Pioneer Seeds in Eastern Ontario, says the program has helped him greatly cover a lot of acres in a short period of time.

“I was able to do a stand assessment on (3,000 acres this season). Before you never thought you could be able to do that,” says Olbach.

Olbach says the program provides some powerful data and helps to eliminate sample bias.

“Especially in a year like this, where we saw a lot of issues in terms of stand in some areas, it helps us understand those scenarios better. It’s been a really valuable tool that way.”

In addition to Corteva Flight, there are several other software tools Corteva is applying to assess crop health.

“These technologies allow us to use drones to do more than take pretty pictures,” says Hardwood.

The program is helping to make growers’ lives easier and saving them time and money.

“You’re really servicing the whole acre efficiently for growers,” says Hardwood.

When flying above a field the software user drops waypoints anywhere within that field, or flying a waypoint grid by taking a sample every acre. The drone will then take a snapshot of the field and complete a stand count.

“Instead of doing the traditional method we have been using for years and years by counting out the thousandth of an acre, this will give you a tenth of an acre sample,” says Olbach.

Olbach says that within 20 minutes he can get 60 waypoints on a 100-acre field, flying the drone 15 metres above the field.

“As soon as that drone lands on the side of the field I can get a stand assessment. It’s such an improvement over the way we’ve traditionally done it. I get a larger sample size with more accuracy in such a timely manner,” says Olbach.

Olbach says the program is effective in quantifying issues that have a lot of metrics associated with them.

Corteva is pursuing the use of drones to go beyond stand counts.

“There is other software that allows us to image fields, create composite images of the entire field area and assess crop health for example,” says Hardwood.

“As we get away from that V1 to V3 time frame and the crop starts to grow I have the opportunity with Drone Deploy to take multiple images across the field, stitch them together and get a high-resolution map of that particular field and get a good idea on variability within the field,” says Olbach.

Hardwood projects that within five years all of his sales staff will have a UAV in the back of the truck as the future of agriculture moves towards this technology.

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