A promising future for drones and farmers

Instructor Robin Harrison with attendants at the Ag Drone course.

Lucie J. Mercier
Express Staff

A small attendance was present for the Ag Drone course, on Remotedly Piloted Aircraft Systems, (R.P.A.S), which was held on March 12 and 13, at the Guy Community Center last Tuesday and Wednesday.

Two gentlemen, by the names of Markus Weber and Robin Harrison were the instructors for the course.

The company began their business in 2015, when Markus was working for a company called Serecon, doing farmland appraisals.

The company had deals where they needed good imagery to establish what the seeded acres were. And at the time they couldn’t mobilize a drone quick enough to do the job, along with a manned aircraft, and also getting to it fast.

That is where Markus realized the need for the business, which is now called LandView Management, which is a brand under the company of Serecon.

They started their first year selling fixed winged drones, with a large wing span of fifty-six inches, which could cover three hundred and twenty acres in a flight. And over time, they discovered that the drone was needed on the farm for agriculture.

Markus states; “In the long run, every farm will have a drone of some type or other. It’ll be completely autonomous by then. But for now, it still requires an operator”.

And because it requires an operator, LandView also provides the imagery service for customers. The labour is the hardest part. It’s not the equipment that is hard, or difficult to use, and the knowledge to fly is really not that challenging either.

With the drone course, the drones can be taught in two days.

How to operate, learning the rules, and how to operate legally are topics the students learn about. What makes it hard for most people with a drone is the time it takes to use it, especially when used for agriculture.

That is why there is still a need for people to do this as a business.

The course is not mandatory anymore. It used to be, that to fly commercially, and owning a drone, you would have to take ground school. Now the course is not necessary. One just needs to pass the competency test.

The course is however, still available, and optional if one still wants to take it to learn about it online. As of June 1 2019, everyone will need to have their certificate.

There will be no grandfathering of the old legislation, and no grandfathering of manned aircraft pilots. Everyone will need to be certified to fly.

LandView focuses exclusively on agriculture, where there is very little safety concerns. There are rarely any privacy issues, due to the drone being used on the owner’s land. And photos can be taken straight down.

Two great ways that drones are used for, are that they can be used by the farmer himself, as his way of getting his eyes up in the sky to get a different view of his field. It makes crop scouting go way faster. And the farmer can see problems from up in the air, that he would not always see from the ground, even if he were standing in the middle of it.

Sometimes, just seeing a pattern in a field, you can only do that by getting four hundred feet up in the air. That is the only way to detect some issues. Like for example; detecting pests, diseases, yield monitoring earlier in the season, and even being able to submit photos of wildlife damage for insurance claims.

With a drone, it is also convenient when scouting out for patches, and can be done in a few minutes, whereas walking across the field would take way longer. Another plus with drones, is that you can quickly change paths, when taking a high altitude look at the field, and then take a low altitude look at a certain area of the field for a closer more in depth look. The whole thing can be done in a timeliness manner of four to five minutes, where again, walking through a field of standing canola would take a half hour. This is where efficiency comes into play for agriculture.

The other way to use them is for autonomous mapping, where you are creating some data.

It is not just a picture, but creating a data set. This is where people are still interested in finding somebody else to do that, and which is why LandView is looking to hire others to do that for the company, and that are also from the local area, as opposed to hiring someone from the southern province.

To hire someone locally, would save on mileage costs for the customer.

And the time in a field is half an hour to forty minutes, for a quarter section. Processing time is a matter of minutes.

For processing, that all depends. There are some systems that will do that in a field’s edge. And after about five to ten minutes after a flight, the customer will have a finished map.

Then there are others that if they want a higher accuracy, they’d have to upload all the imagery, and then it would take about two to twelve hours to get a map done.

The service is mainly used for early detection or for when there is already an issue.

Some of the most common reasons is variable rate fungicide. This is just to save some money on not applying fungicide to low producing areas of the crop. The idea is to measure good and bad crop, and turning the fungicide off for those areas where you are only going to produce twenty bushels per acre, since it would not make sense to be applying any more there.

Other reasons are when there is a problem.

For example, wildlife trampling. Or there is hail damage. Or there is spray drift from the neighbor. Any of the incidences where you know there is a problem, and you want to accurately measure the acres.

However, it will not tell you the extent of the damage. The drones are not currently able to tell you, that you have sixty percent hail damage on these twenty-four acres. The drone is only very good at measuring acres.

LandView Management do sell drones for anyone who is interested.

Prices range from twenty-five hundred dollars to twenty-five thousand dollars. It is advised that it is not necessary to spend a lot of money if you have no experience, or if it is only going to be used from time to time. To get a drone that does really good maps, would be around twenty-five hundred to six thousand dollars.

One thing that is new, and has generated a lot of interest, is a drone that has a thermal camera on it. Cost for it is under five thousand dollars, and it was mainly built for fire, police, and search and rescue. But it is also equally useful to finding livestock like cattle.

Farmers find it convenient because less time is spent for emptying out community pastures, which now takes them a day instead of days. Then they spend another two to three days looking for the last quarter. With a drone, it makes things go so much faster, and can also be used not only during the day but also at night.

When Markus is not selling drones, he is busy doing behind the scenes research. His goal is to one day be able to fly a drone where it can scour the field and it will tell you where there is a Canada Thistle patch in one area, or wild oats in another area, and Sclerotinia in the middle. For him that is where the real value will be.

Markus and Robin travel all over the western Canada, to offer their drone course in the farming areas, and going as far east as Brandon Manitoba. Their main focus are small farm towns. No cities. They have seen a large interest in the digital elevation modeling, and the Peace country is one of their most interested region that are wanting land form maps.

Drone prices range from twenty-five hundred dollars to twenty-five thousand dollars.

 

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