Improved drone technology gives farmers edge in scouting fields – Herald-Whig

Posted: Jan. 28, 2018 12:01 am

Drone technology gives farmers new time- and labor-saving options.

With the drone’s birds-eye view, row crop farmers can scout for disease, pest and nutrient problems in crops. Livestock producers can check herds, fences and water. Better technology overcomes weather and mobility issues.

Enhanced imaging allows farmers to zoom in on problem areas and respond quickly, University of Missouri Extension natural resources engineer Kent Shannon said, which results in better productivity and higher yields.

Shannon uses drones to scout fields in the MU Extension Strip Trial Program. Through their use, he quickly identified soybean cyst nematode in trial plots as well as other Missouri fields, and he has used drones to evaluate cover crop effectiveness.

Other MU Extension specialists use drones to capture plant infrared wavelength readings to find nitrogen deficiencies in crops. This allows producers to pinpoint nitrogen needs quickly.

Using GPS technology, Shannon programs drones for flight over fields he scouts. In typical collection and processing, the workflow includes setup, flying time, data capturing and data upload and processing. In a 60-minute flight, the operator can collect 3 gigabytes of raw data. Traditional imaging stitching — putting together numerous images into one image — is time-consuming, but new software speeds the process and improves quality.

Drawbacks still exist. Batteries drain quickly. Poor or nonexistent internet or cellular coverage in many rural areas still prevents farmers from downloading data in the field. This requires them to return to their home or office to retrieve data.

Shannon said drone operators who are providing their services as part of a business must hold a remote pilot certificate or work under the direct supervision of a pilot with a certificate. The FAA still requires operators to be within line of sight of the drone. Pilots can fly only in daylight in limited airspace of no higher than 400 feet. Groundspeed of the drone must be under 100 mph.

Supply and demand

Pork producers plan to continue increasing the breeding herd at a slow, sustainable pace.

Purdue University Extension economist Chris Hurt said the U.S. breeding herd has expanded by 7 percent since the start of 2014.

States with the largest increases over this period are Missouri, up more than 30 percent; Ohio, Oklahoma and Nebraska each up 10 percent; and Illinois up 6 percent. Pigs per litter reached another record in 2017 at 10.59, a 0.9 percent increase for the year and a remarkable 15 percent improvement over the past decade.

“The theme for the pork market in 2017 was higher production and higher prices, as pork production rose by 2.5 percent and hog prices were up 10 percent,” Hurt said. “The reason was strong pork demand around the world. That was led by bacon demand in the U.S. (with) retail prices and pork exports both increasing by about 7 percent.”

For 2018, the question is once again if hog prices can be higher, given a 3.5 percent increase in supply and with sizable increases in competitive meats.

“In 2018, the world economy is expected to be the strongest since the 2008-09 recession,” Hurt said. “USDA analysts expect net pork trade (exports minus imports) to increase by 9 percent. Finally, packer demand will continue to strengthen as newly opened processing plants continue to expand toward full capacity in 2018.”?Hurt said live hog prices are expected to average around $53 in 2018 compared to about $51 in 2017, but costs of production are expected to be slightly higher due to somewhat higher corn prices in the fall of 2018. Estimated profits for 2017 were around $5 per head above all cost of production. For 2018, that estimate is slightly better at $5 to $10 per head.

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