Pulse Beat Individual Articles

There We Go, Droning On and On About Tech – Drone Tech

June 2021
Toban Dyck, MPSG’s Director of Communications and Matthew Johnson, M3 Aerial and Volatus Unmanned Services

AT MANITOBA PULSE & Soybean Growers (MPSG), we talk about technology an awful lot. It’s something many of us are personally interested in, but agricultural technology is also a topic on which we have perspective. Our researchers, agronomists and technicians have a keen sense of the complex technologies that are being implemented to deliver some of the agricultural advancements many farmers are taking for granted. Plant breeding, genetics, soil and plant science, scouting and many more pieces of agricultural scaffolding rely heavily on smart technology and smart operators.

During the last number of Pulse Beat editorial meetings, we’ve discussed including content explicitly focused on agricultural technology, believing this topic to be of interest to a large number of farmers. The technological requirements associated with being able to attend virtual meetings have contributed to placing our interest and, dare I say, dependence on technology on an exponential growth trajectory.

How many of you have upgraded your laptops, earbuds, microphones and/or webcams over the past year? I have.

Here is a quick rundown of what I use in my home office. I have two laptops — my work computer and my personal — connected via HDMI cable to one 27-inch monitor. I toggle between which computer is being broadcast to my monitor using an HDMI switch (pictured). I use a Blue Snowball USB microphone with a pop filter I purchased on Amazon. I also opted for an aftermarket webcam. I bought the Logitech C920. It is much more reliable than my computer’s camera and it gives the user more control over how his or her image appears. When I use earbuds, I use ones with a built-in microphone (most come stock with this feature). All of these have made the home office more efficient. It’s tech I use.

This article isn’t about general consumer electronics, though. It’s about drone technology. It is of particular interest to me. I have had DJI Mavic Pro drone for a couple of years now, and I use it regularly. Last year, I took the test and acquired a license to operate it in eligible areas and only in a hobbyist capacity. As in, I can’t get paid for my drone footage. That requires an advanced licence.

I have used my drone to get a closer look at areas of fields that historically don’t produce like the others, but only exhibit signs of slowing well far enough into the growing season that crop trampling is a concern.

I also use it for recreation. I’ve cobbled together farm videos on iMovie and capture footage of our fields getting custom sprayed.

We asked Matthew Johnson, of M3 Aerial Productions and Volatus Unmanned Services, for his perspective on drones and drone technology in the agriculture sector. You may recognize his name. The companies he is involved with are quite active in agriculture, and he has certainly appeared at many ag events.

Here is what he has to say:

Farm Tech That Benefits You

Drones are providing crop insight we only dreamed about 10 years ago.

DRONE TECHNOLOGY IS quite a recent phenomenon. It was only about a decade ago when I first started hearing in the news that, this will be the year of the drone. This new miracle technology promised people the world, and, though it could do some incredible things, it couldn’t quite do everything. People had high expectations in agriculture for drones, and now, finally, drones are beginning to lift their weight in digital ag.

You may be an independent producer looking to utilize drone technology to expand your own understanding of your crops. You may be an agronomist providing clients with powerful insights and advice. You could even be an input provider, service provider or research scientist. Whatever your role in the field of agriculture, drone technology has developed to a point where you are able to derive real value from a relatively low investment in time and resources.

Where is this value coming from all of a sudden? The analytics. The data that drones are collecting is becoming more reliable every year. Cameras are increasing in megapixel size, batteries are lasting longer and longer, but the number one reason for the tipping point we are witnessing in the industry is the software that can look at the data and tell us what we want to know.

In the last couple of years, there have been some major developments in artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms that have made it possible for software programs to identify metrics, such as the number of wheat heads in a field.

How about the number of skipped seeds, or the number of growing stands? Do you want to know how many doubles in your corn or soybean field? Or, use the tech to assign a quantitative value to the growth performance of a single plot, precise to a factor of 100,000, and also for the 10,000 additional plots all around it. Then take a look at the data and determine, based on an objective, quantitative analysis, which single plot is performing the best. We are even able to conduct a thermal scan of an entire field to determine where seeds that are planted in soil that is just a few degrees colder than its surroundings may end up taking a few extra days to emerge.

I have been working in the drone industry since 2015, and I have been specializing in the digital and precision agriculture space since 2016. I have seen first-hand how these technological marvels have developed over the years. If you’ve been on the fence for a while about drones, it might be time to take a closer look, because the drone itself has become very easy to program and fly, and the data workflows have become much more simplified.

I founded M3 Aerial Productions in 2015, but recently became part of Volatus Unmanned Services, a nationwide drone service provider, manufacturer and training authority. Now, I am spending most of my time in the field, either capturing data for clients, or showing them the ropes and getting them started with their own drone programs.

Maybe data collection isn’t your primary focus. Perhaps you are more interested in showing off your excellent product to potential buyers, like at a good old-fashioned field day event that have become a little less frequent since we were blindsided by COVID-19. Drones are making it easier to attend the field day from your living room. Now obviously it’s hard to beat the ability to touch, smell and see the plants in all their glory in person, but in the absence of that luxury, we make do with what we have. Volatus is working with a few seed producers to help them display their products by hosting virtual field days, with live and pre-recorded tours that allow you to get up close and personal with the plants.

Whether you have been using drones for a while, or if you are brand new; if you are interested in learning about some of the newest developments that are reshaping the way we think about collecting and looking at crop data, now is the time. You don’t have to be an expert. My company is there to help facilitate the introduction of drones into your farming operations to help you find the most value. The old drone on the shelf idea is gone. It’s time to actually use it for what it can do.

I have been working in the drone industry since 2015, and I have been specializing in the digital and precision agriculture space since 2016. I have seen first-hand how these technological marvels have developed over the years. If you’ve been on the fence for a while about drones, it might be time to take a closer look, because the drone itself has become very easy to program and fly, and the data workflows have become much more simplified.

I founded M3 Aerial Productions in 2015, but recently became part of Volatus Unmanned Services, a nationwide drone service provider, manufacturer and training authority. Now, I am spending most of my time in the field, either capturing data for clients, or showing them the ropes and getting them started with their own drone programs.

Maybe data collection isn’t your primary focus. Perhaps you are more interested in showing off your excellent product to potential buyers, like at a good old-fashioned field day event that have become a little less frequent since we were blindsided by COVID-19. Drones are making it easier to attend the field day from your living room. Now obviously it’s hard to beat the ability to touch, smell and see the plants in all their glory in person, but in the absence of that luxury, we make do with what we have. Volatus is working with a few seed producers to help them display their products by hosting virtual field days, with live and pre-recorded tours that allow you to get up close and personal with the plants.

Whether you have been using drones for a while, or if you are brand new; if you are interested in learning about some of the newest developments that are reshaping the way we think about collecting and looking at crop data, now is the time. You don’t have to be an expert. My company is there to help facilitate the introduction of drones into your farming operations to help you find the most value. The old drone on the shelf idea is gone. It’s time to actually use it for what it can do.