Drones: The farmer’s new tool in measuring plant health

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Dr. Brian Luck, of the UW-Extension, is pictured flying his unmanned aircraft system (UAS), as he prefers to call the commonly labeled drones. He spoke at the Farmer Appreciation Lunceon last week about how these systems are fantastic new tools in the agriculture industry.

Area farmers treated by Chamber to lunch, program

By Correne Martin

Remote sensing, by way of unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), or drones, is a new tool farmers can use to identify and measure plant health. UW-Extension specialist Dr. Brian Luck provided an overview of UASs and their advantages, as the keynote speaker of the 27th annual Farmer Appreciation Luncheon, presented Feb. 24 by the Prairie du Chien Area Chamber of Commerce, at Jones’ Black Angus.

Relying upon his expertise as an assistant professor and Extension biological system engineering specialist at UW-Madison, and his research focused on precision agriculture, Luck presented to over 60 farmers, ag industry representatives and sponsors about the different types of UASs, how they’re used and what can be gained from the information they provide.

Through modern technology, UASs can be used to identify nutrient deficiencies, disease, water deficiency or surplus, weed infestations, insect damage, hail and wind damage, herbicide damage, yield prediction, etc. They work by taking NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) pictures of the vegetation that can be analyzed by the naked eye as well as by computer software suited to measure plant health.

“Our current machinery can only go over the crops so often,” Luck noted. “You can tell a lot about a field just by looking at it from above. With the plant stress information, within an entire growing season, you have the opportunity to adjust inputs for profit optimization.”

UASs vary in size, capability and cost, from best imagery to most ground covered to most pounds carried, Luck said. One of the UASs Luck commonly uses comes with four spray nozzles that can cover 7-10 acres per hour, carries up to 22 pounds at a time, and is said to be 40 times more efficient than manual spraying.

Since Dec. 21, the Federal Aviation Administration began requiring registration by those owning UASs before they’re flown outdoors. People who do not register could face civil and criminal penalties. There is a small, one-time fee (no matter how many systems you own). To register or learn more, visit www.faa.gov/uas/registration.

Another noteworthy regulation, according to Luck, is that UASs cannot be flown within five miles of an airport. To help operators be aware of any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where they want to fly, Luck recommends downloading the free B4UFLY smartphone app.

In addition to Luck’s presentation, the Farmer Appreciation Luncheon included a buffet meal as a way to say thanks to local farmers for all they do for area communities. Sponsors included AmericInn, Blackhawk Motors, Dillman Equipment, Lady Luck Casino, River Town Ironworks, Badgerland Financial, Country Inn & Suites, Grau Funeral Home, Peoples State Bank, Fillback Automotive, Halpin Tire, Nelson True Value, Southwest Vet, Wolf Machine, FirstMerit, La Crosse Loggers, Rural Insurance, Walmart, WGLR/Queen B Radio, Anchor Bank, Courier Press, Howe Printing, Mayo Clinic, Sutton Insurance, Shopping News, Boscobel Area Sportsmen, Dependable Solutions, KADR/KCTN, Scenic Rivers Energy, Tiller’s Furniture and Zinkle’s Piggly Wiggly.

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