PA, nerd stuff and drones _______________________________
Nerd stuff. Bleeding edge. The future of farming. Silver Bullet. Agri-Porn. Awesome. Rubbish. All valid responses at times, but not in all cases!
Information technologies are transforming agriculture. The landscape/techscape we see in twenty years will be very different to what we see now. Except, we may not actually see all that much physical difference as the changes will be “under the hood”.
Mechanical tasks will still need to be done, but the knowledge and decisions that inform those actions will be highly enhanced. Some mechanical tasks will disappear, others morph, and new ones created as we better understand systems and the production:environment interface.
Some people are born tech geeks, can’t help but try out the latest gadget. “Gimme, gimme, let me at it!” Others say they are too busy running complex operations and don’t relish more hassles, so they wait until technology is proven and others (preferably like them) have shown it is safe and robust and does deliver value.
There is so much out there, so many people having the latest greatest idea and offering products and services it’s impossible to keep up.
An important job for managers is reviewing the opportunities and finding fit with their businesses. In a commercial world, the question is “How does this add value to my business?” In a managerial sense, there is also the question, “Is the gain worth the pain?”
The current PA craze is the drone or UAV. These are stunning machines, providing many new opportunities. In technology terms they’re as disruptive as were the quad-bike and autosteer. But we’re not sure people are getting best value, or in some cases any value from some offerings.
Tasmanian farmer and self-confessed UAV nerd Will “DroneAg” Bignell discussed UAVs for farming at a recent seminar in Pukekohe. He summed up with four key points:
• Understand what a service provider is actually offering and its quality
• Use professional service providers to drive production and PA integration into your business
• Buy a drone for inspection and taking photos but take care making maps
• Make sure you can do something with the data that makes you money
We have found consumer UAVs very useful viewing our crops just using the colour camera. Get your eyes up above and things become apparent that you just can’t see from ground level. We pick up variability very easily and can zoom down or even walk in for a closer look.
We have done a lot of image stitching to make whole paddock maps, but be careful. If you don’t use surveyed ground control points and you use the readily available online stitching tools your image will be stretched in all sorts of directions. It gets further distorted if you stretch it on to some other farm outline such as on Google Earth (which is not so accurate either). That may not matter, it depends what you want to do with the final image.
If you want to calculate how much crop has been damaged in a heavy rain event, these maps can give you a reasonable estimate. Will uses his maps to create drainage plans, and for that he must be very accurate indeed. At this stage you need professional quality survey of ground control points, image capture and processing.
What about other UAV cameras and sensors?
There are examples of excellent sensors, excellent services and excellent value. But they are not the norm. Without controls, the varying light conditions over a day, as a cloud passes by, or as the camera angle changes even quite slightly can give confounding or false readings.
So sit back, think about the areas of your business that are holding you back, causing pain, offering opportunities if only . . . Then determine what tech can help, get to understand what it actually offers and how the promised benefits can best be accessed. Do you have the skills, aptitudes and time?