Drone Map Shows Improved Standability of Corn Crop
FlyFlick Media and BASF help farmers compare fungicide treatments and plant health
When it comes to products aimed at strengthening their crops, corn farmers have no shortage of options to choose from. But these products cost valuable money to apply, so it is important for a farmer to be assured of a product’s usefulness before making a purchase. Drone mapping helps corn farmers visualize how fungicide treatments affect the yield and standability of their crops, allowing them to make more informed purchasing decisions that lead to greater returns on investment.
Drone service provider Trevor Hogan, of FlyFlick Media Products, first started using drones as a way to take pictures of his own house. This eventually led to his work providing realtors with drone tours. Then, through Twitter, he found out about DroneDeploy and got hooked on mapping. Trevor now pairs his DJI drones with DroneDeploy to produce maps for construction and agriculture.
“I fell in love with everything you could do with DroneDeploy, and the ease of use for sure,” says Trevor. “Once the iOs app came out, it’s exploded in terms of what you can do.” [click-to-tweet]
In the following case study, Trevor shares how he worked with fungicide rep Chris Norberg of BASF to provide corn farmers with a visual comparison of how different fungicide treatments can improve the health of their corn.
Fungicide Company Uses Drone Map to Illustrate Plant Health
Earlier this year, Trevor was invited to talk about his drone services during a farmer’s meeting at a seed store near his home in Illinois. There, he met fungicide rep Chris Norberg, of BASF, who asked him to fly one of the company’s test plots. The 40-acre plot consisted of 26 varieties of corn, broken into 4 testing sections. One section served as a control, while the other three were treated with different applications of fungicide. BASF had tested the same fungicide applications the year before, but Chris wanted a way to visually represent the results to the farmers he works with.
“Farmers are very visual, so when I can actually show them a green, healthy plant in an NDVI picture, and to the line of where we applied the product, that is a great value to them.”- Chris Norberg, BASF fungicide rep
In order to make sure he got the best possible map results, Trevor flew the plot at various times during the growing season. He flew in June, August and September, each time producing two maps, one using an NIR sensor and one using an RGB filter. When the corn is fully canopied, it looks very homogenous from the air, so he found that the map made when applying an NDVI algorithm to the RGB imagery stitched together better and also did a better job of highlighting variances in the crop. It was this map, flown in September, that he delivered to Chris as a final product.
DroneDeploy’s Plant Health Map Shows Standability of Corn
BASF’s tests in previous years have shown that their preferred fungicide application both increases the yield of a corn crop and also improves the crop’s ability to withstand weather conditions. Greater standability means less debris in the field from stalk breakage, which in turn means a combine can harvest a crop at a faster rate. BASF estimates that in a 1000-acre field, if a combine can go even two miles-per-hour faster due to less cornstalk debris, a grower saves more than 55 hours of harvest time, not to mention fuel and labor costs.
During last year’s harvest, Chris was able to obtain aerial photographs of the test plots from the farmer’s own drone. These photographs weren’t able to illustrate plant health per se, but did help him show that the tops of the plants remained intact more often when the preferred fungicide was applied. Although this was somewhat useful in illustrating improved standability of the corn, it was far from comprehensive.
This year, by applying an NDVI algorithm to the map using DroneDeploy’s plant health toolbox, Trevor created a map that clearly shows healthier plants with more moisture and stronger stalks in the section where the preferred fungicide treatment was applied. Stronger, healthier stalks mean greater standability of the corn, which is exactly what a farmer looks for. Trevor shared the map with Chris, which he now carries around on his phone. He pulls it out when he is trying to help a farmer decide on the right fungicide treatment for a given field of corn.
Farmers are surprised by how much more standability they can see in the plants treated with fungicide.
“The farmer who harvested the corn saw the map and said, ‘This isn’t even the same corn,’” says Chris. “The increased standability alone is worth (a farmer’s) return-on-investment. We’re talking an increased value of five, six, even seven dollars an acre.”
A picture, in this case, really is worth a thousand words.
An Unexpected Find: Quality Control of Fungicide Application
Taking a closer look at the maps also revealed an unexpected discovery. In the bottom left portion of the healthiest section, there is a patch of field showing markedly less healthy plants. Although it bears more investigation, this could mean an issue with sprayer equipment that lead to an uneven application of the fungicide. This unexpected discovery may help BASF ensure future quality control of test plots. At the very least, it helped them adjust their crop health findings so that their data was not unnecessarily skewed.
All told, both Chris and Trevor were pleased with the information the drone-generated plant health maps were able to provide. Armed with this information in the year to come, Chris will be able to provide farmers with comprehensive, visual information about how various fungicide treatments affect crop health and standability, allowing them to compare their potential return on investment and make the most informed business decisions.
Where to learn more
To hear more about the use of drones in agriculture, check out our webinar, Lessons from the Field, featuring ag experts Chad Colby and Jim Love. And heading into 2017, don’t forget our New Year’s drone study guide, perfect for all levels of experience. As always, our support documentation offers valuable tips and tools, including:
Get Started with Drone Deploy
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