UAVs will soon be a mainstay of agriculture -according to experts- as UAVs outfitted with multi spectral cameras can alert growers to crop diseases, inadequate moisture content and many other problems.
Ron and Mary Bitner, founders of Bitner Vineyard, have grown grapes at Sunny Slope (Idaho) for 33 years using as few chemicals as possible: "Rather than spraying the whole field, if we can identify spots of disease or pests, we can do spot spraying," Bitner says. "That will reduce chemicals. We can reduce water stress. There will be some real benefits to it."
Robert Blair has flown hobby-kit drones over his 1,500-acre farm 34 miles northeast of Lewiston since 2006. Blair says he was the first American grower to deploy UAV technology for agricultural purposes, outfitting his 3-pound fixed-wing Styrofoam UAV with a GPS autopilot system that tracks coordinates to traverse his barley, wheat, lentil, alfalfa and garbanzo bean fields.
A digital infrared camera snaps photos that Blair downloads and scrolls through. He finds patches of crops needing attention and keeps an eye on plants after storms when the fields are too muddy for on-the-ground scouting. "I can't cover 100 percent of my fields by traditional scouting," Blair says. "This allows me to see better and realize, 'Hey, I do have a problem out there. Maybe it's something I can fix.' " Blair says drones can help growers improve their yields while accommodating the swelling demand for more eco-friendly farming practices.
"Agriculture has the tremendous responsibility of feeding people and doing so sustainably," Blair says. "This technology will allow us to better manage our inputs and make better management decisions."