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!

NZ Grower - - Metservice Update - Dan Bloomer

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?

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