Drones Help Growers Take the Guesswork Out of Late-Season Course Corrections
A Minnesota Corn Farmer Replaces Ground-Based Stand Counts with Data-Driven Insights from DroneDeploy and Agremo
That sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when one of your crops doesn’t emerge as expected? For many growers, there’s nothing worse. Except maybe the feeling you get from having to make, at best, an educated guess about the right course of corrective action.
Ground-based stand count methods provide relatively little information about the health of a compromised field. With this small amount of information, a grower must make big decisions — to treat or not treat, to replant or not replant — that can significantly affect the farm’s bottom line. DroneDeploy’s drone maps and models, combined with Agremo’s ag-focused analytics tools, give growers a comprehensive look at stand loss, weed pressure and sowing quality. With drones, growers can make data-driven decisions that take the guesswork out of late-season course corrections.
Agremo, formerly AgriSens, is an ag-focused technology company whose research and development team includes PhDs in Agriculture, Bio-technical Science and Data Science. As we’ve written about before, they leverage their expertise to develop new technologies that improve agriculture production through remote sensing solutions. Agremo Insights, available on the DroneDeploy App Market, offers growers 8 different analysis types on plant counting and plant health, such as stand counts or weed and plant stress analyses.
If anyone knows the difference a tool like Agremo Insights can make in the fields, it’s Minnesota-based farmer and drone service provider Corey Nohl. A corn and soybean grower, and a recent graduate from South Dakota State University’s agriculture program, it isn’t difficult for Corey to make the connection between drones and farming.
“As a farmer myself, I can see the benefit of flying my crops versus walking them, and making decisions based on computer analytics, rather than just opinions…Drones take the human error out of it.” —Corey Nohl, Above All Aerial
Corey began using drones in his own fields four years ago. In March of 2017, shortly after receiving his Part 107 certification, he launched Above All Aerial, where he uses his drone, combined with tools like DroneDeploy and Agremo, to help agricultural customers gain actionable data. To say he is busy is an understatement. In fact, Corey flies fields so often — covering an estimated 8,000 acres with his drone just this year — that the folks at Agremo began to take notice, recently tapping him to help beta test new products.
He shares the story of how he helped one corn grower gain an accurate picture of stand loss after an unseasonably cold spring affected germination across his field.
Drone Data Gives Grower Detailed Picture of Crop Loss After Late Frost
In parts of Minnesota, this year’s cool spring temperatures kept the last frost in the fields longer than expected, which had a negative effect on corn germination. So when a local grower began to notice poor crop emergence across his eighty-acre field, he hired Corey to scout the area with his drone, hoping drone data could help him effectively assess the loss.
Before calling Corey, the farmer completed an initial, ground-based stand count by walking sample portions of his field and extrapolating the information across the entire eighty acres. Based on this information, he estimated that the stand loss was fairly mild. With this level of mild stand loss, it isn’t worth the time and cost to replant. Better to simply let the corn emerge as-is.
But he couldn’t shake a nagging feeling of doubt. After all, ground scouting is an imperfect science with a high margin of error. What if the losses were unevenly distributed and he by chance skipped over the worst areas during his scouting. If this was the case, and he didn’t replant, he might see crippling losses come harvest time. On the flip side, what if he decided to replant when it wasn’t in fact necessary? With seed costing around $120 per acre, multiplied across an eighty-acre field, this is hardly a decision to take lightly.
Herein lies the dilemma of ground-based stand counts: Experience and intuition tell a grower not to replant. But without a full picture of the entire field, he can never be sure he’s making the right choice. It was for this reason that the corn farmer hired Corey to complete a drone-based stand count, as well as an assessment of weed pressure.
Drone Data Delivers Timely, Accurate Insights about Stand Count
Corey flew the eighty-acre corn field with his DJI Phantom 4 Pro at an altitude of 200 feet, using 65/75 overlap. His total flight time was just under 17 minutes. Back at the office, he uploaded the 300 images into DroneDeploy. By the next day, DroneDeploy had stitched the images into an orthomosaic map, which he forwarded to Agremo. Twenty-four hours later, Agremo sent Corey a full report outlining the total stand count, stand loss percentage, and weed pressure percentage.
Less than forty-eight hours from the time his drone took off, Corey was able to return to the farmer, this time with a powerful set of data in hand. Armed with this information, the farmer made an educated decision right there at the edge of the field.
“I printed off the report and met him at edge of field. We walked out and ground-truthed the map and he was very impressed. I handed him the map and he was making a decision right from there.” — Corey Nohl, on pairing DroneDeploy and Agremo
The report showed a 12% total stand loss. Weed pressure was minimal, only about 3%. To put this stand loss in perspective, Corey says a 2% loss is considered a perfect stand count, while an average field sees about a 5% total stand loss.
The 12% loss that the corn grower experienced, although noticeable from the road, was still not too far outside the normal range. In the end, using the information he gained from the Agremo report, the grower decided not to replant. The potential loss in harvest revenue simply didn’t justify the time and money it would take to replant his field.
Without drones, the corn farmer would have had far less information on which to base his important replanting decision. Thanks to DroneDeploy and Agremo, he not only had a complete stand count, but he also had a detailed map showing the exact areas of crop loss. Had he needed to replant, this map would be an invaluable resource, allowing him to save time and money by targeting his efforts.
Corey has tried competitor’s products, but he always comes back to Agremo for the company’s high-quality maps. “Agremo’s map is more specific,” says Corey. “Competitors break their maps into half-acre grids, but Agremo colors the whole thing exactly how it is. Visually, it’s night and day, and a lot of farmers are visual.”
Drones Take the Guesswork Out of Crop Scouting
So what does all of this mean to the grower? After all, the information he gathered via drone only served to confirm what he originally suspected: the losses were not great enough to justify replanting. Was it worth it to hire a drone, only to confirm what he suspected all along?
According to both Corey and the farmer? Absolutely. Because without a complete set of data on a field, you can never really be sure. According to Corey, it’s this uncertainty that keeps growers up at night.
“It’s an awful feeling when you plant something and it doesn’t germinate. The farmer knew in the back of his mind that unless he was way off, he probably didn’t need to replant. But he wanted to be sure…What does it cost you not to know? It pays to know. Drones take the human error out of it. Now, it’s computer analytics making the decision.” — Corey Nohl
The greatest payoff for this corn grower was the peace of mind that came from being able to base an important crop management decision on a solid set of data. Sure, it’s impossible to quantify peace of mind. But talk to any farmer who has ever worried about his yields, and he’ll tell you: even though you can’t quantify it, peace of mind is worth every penny.
Where to Learn More
Interested in learning how you begin crop scouting with drones? Download our free eBook, Crop Scouting with Drones: Identifying Crop Variability with UAVs.
Ready to get started using drones on your farm? Watch our webinar: Drones in Agriculture: Putting Your Drone to Work in the Field This Season.
If you already use a UAV on the farm, you might find our advanced webinar useful: Getting the Most Out of Your UAV This Growing Season
Get Started with Drone Deploy
Want to learn how DroneDeploy can help your business? Visit www.dronedeploy.com to start your free trial or request a consultation with one of our team members. The DroneDeploy mobile application is available for free download for both iOS and Android devices.