Drones, precision hot topics in cold ND. Join me in warm Jamestown.



If you care to look beyond the current economics in agriculture and cold winter, perhaps the world of drone-delivered crop and livestock information is for you.
I myself will be taking in much of the Precision Ag Summit, Jan. 20-21, at the North Dakota Farmers Union headquarters in Jamestown. Look for coverage at www.agweek.com in the Jan. 27 issue of Agweek. Here is a link to the agenda: http://theresearchcorridor.com/precisionagsummit2014/agenda
David Dvorak, chief executive officer of Field of View (see Jonathan Knutson’s cover story in Agweek, July 8, 2013) will be there. Erdal Ozkan, of Ohio State University Extension, will be there, as well as Kevin Price, Kansas State University, are two of the speakers I’m going to focus on. The event has an expanded livestock technology feature.
John Nowatzki, a North Dakota State University Extension Service agricultural engineer who deals with this topic, has been talking about this topic quite a bit as he attends meetings across the region. The University of North Dakota and NDSU are rivals on sports fields but are working cooperatively – feverishly? – to develop work in this topic. Historically, researchers have a heightened interest in topics where grant funding and political is most available, which isn’t always the same as the feasibility of a concept. (Think cellulosic ethanol.)
The interest is certainly there.
I learned that Monsanto on Jan. 14 held an invitation-only event for under-age-35 top growers in the region. The event attracted some 30 growers are associated with operations that account for some 800,000 acres. Simple math: That’s an mean average of 26,000 per, but some operations might not have been that large. The pickups I saw in the parking lot were largely North Dakota and Minnesota, although some may have been rented.
The young farmers met at the Fargo Air Museum and then went over to the Fargodome across the street for a 15-minute demonstration of the drones.
I knocked on the museum to see if I could listen in, but a polite fellow told the meeting wasn’t open to me, either because I’m not in the demo (a joke) or because then it would have had to be open to all of the other ag media. Monsanto’s No. 2 official had jetted into Fargo for it. They were considering issuing a press release.
Regardless: One of the farmers attending the meeting told me some of the highlights, as he remembered them. So the following is hearsay — not necessarily the truth. (Hey, I feel like those radio talk show hosts, who sometimes use a disclaimer.)
Anyway, where’s what my young man said:
• The drone demonstration explained the partnership between NDSU and UND and efforts to get regulations passed for drone operations. The two institutions are working to develop cameras with different imagery and pictures to make some use out of it. The key is to discover identify weed and disease pressure.
• At the Fargodome, the officials had a small, four-blade drone hover around for about 15 minutes. No one handed out literature. In the field, such a vehicle would be kept below 400 feet to comply with FAA regulations. The farmer saw a “Draganflyer.” It was the farmer’s impression this would fly for 30 minutes around a field, operated by remote control or perhaps autonomously with GPS.
• A much larger, more expensive fixed wind aircraft (SkyHawk?) was shown as a static exhibit but not demonstrated for lack of space. This would be used more with a flight plan from coordinates, and not with a flight team.
• University officials of the plan is to fly 500 acres on a Casselton area farm this summer in a $35,000 project funded by the North Dakota Soybean Council. Forms with the Federal Aviation Administration are difficult, in attempt to monitor five soybean fields, looking for iron chlorisis. NDSU will fly the fields weekly and ground-proof anomalies with weed, insect, disease and salinity issues. The idea will be whether aerial will detect problems sooner than ground crews. A separate project hope is to fly another 800 to 1,000 acres at Carrington at the NDSU Research Extension Center, with potential funds from Research North Dakota, with a decision pending this month. N
• One issue with the FAA is who does the work. A farmer can drive through his own fields, launch an aircraft, pending the required crew team, and that can be considered non-commercial and doable if no third party is paid to do the work..
• Officials from all organizations say they need more “interest from growers and farmers” to show the demand and to see if there “want and that there is a value.” I suppose that’s where regulatory and fiscal support for research. The big thing would be developing cameras and developing light waves to detect what farmers want to know, particularly about weed and disease pests. UND officials told farmers they a value of $13 billion in value for agriculture in the first three years.
• There was discussion about whether the aircraft might fly a field, document where weed “escapes” or resistant weeds might be located, and then the same vehicle might spray the spot in the same flight. It could be used where pre-emerge herbicides are used, to “clean up skips.” The farmer wondered whether this would be move cost-effective than on-ground crop consultants or conventional aerial application..
• Monsanto officials, who included Robb Fraley, Monsanto’s chief technology officer from St. Louis, talked about developing corn hybrids and looking at the genetic lineage to find exact matches for a field. This would bring together hybrid, weather, soil type, production history and other information and offer advice on such things as whether side-dress fertilizer might be needed on a hybrid or variety in a particular field. This would involve the company’s FieldScript concept.
• Monsanto talked about new linkages between Monsanto and Winfield in their R7 program, working together on the nitrogen applications, but the farmer didn’t have details. According to Farm Industry News, R7 has been available for Winfield dealers since fall 2011. Verbatim: “It allows growers without extensive yield and soil sampling records to try out variable-rate seeding and fertility. Growers work with their dealers to develop those prescriptions using historical satellite images to identify management zones.”

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