By Jacy Smith-Warrick
CRAWFORD COUNTY - Technology has been on the rise for farmers, from biochemically engineered seed to GPS driven tractors. Science is helping farmers to succeed in generating a hearty, plentiful harvest. But the technology doesn’t stop there. Recent developments in unmanned aircraft systems, or drones as many people know them, are making an impact on farmers and their fields.
Veteran drone operator Tom Cooke divulged a wealth of knowledge on the subject during a presentation Wednesday morning at Cranberry Hills Golf Course. The information he shared was to help other farmers on their quest for drone application in the fields.
The drone technology has become quite advanced within the last number of years, according to Cooke. His most recent purchase, made just last year has already been replaced with a newer model. Regardless of the quick advances, Cooke has used his drone to assist his cousin in the field.
“I have used him on the farm to look for washouts in tile lines. Most of you know, in the spring of the year when the weather is just right you can see every tile in the field, just the way they dry out,” said Cooke’s cousin, Fred Cooke. “(Tom) brought his drone down one day and we searched the fields, looking for this and that. We could see everything. We could see a groundhog running across the field, all sorts of stuff with the equipment he has.”
The system that Tom owns is a Phantom 3 Professional drone, along with an iPad for observing what the drone sees in flight. The drones use software capable of synchronizing with smartphones and tablets for operation of the drone. Some of the drones have a camera attached to the bottom of the body and using a gimbal, the camera remains level at all angles. Those without a camera are able to be equipped with a camera like the GoPro, which is commonly used. There are a variety of models and brands that sell the drone systems for use for hobbyists and professionals and their farming counterparts.
The farmers have realized a use for the drones for every season. According to a technology study by MIT the drones can expose insect infestations, irrigation issues and even nitrogen needs through the use of an UAS. They have the ability to show farmers fertilizing patterns, irrigation management and the observation of a growth variability within their fields. The technology can be relatively inexpensive in regard to farming equipment, as well and save the farmer countless hours of man time. By utilizing the drone, farmers can cut down on time walking the fields to check for any issues throughout the acres of farmland.
Tom has been interested in flying for a number of years, going even as far as to obtain his pilot’s license, which has come in handy with recent application of the airspace designated to drones. “There are all kinds of rules,” said Tom. “You’re sharing the sky with other aircrafts. And it’s not just airplane rules, there are boating rules, water rules. So there are all kinds of rules, not just airplane rules.” When drones were first introduced, there weren’t many rules and regulations, but according to Tom, that has drastically changed within the last year.
“You now need registration for each drone. If you are flying them outside, 0.55 pounds or above, they need to be registered online, and you need the paperwork with you when you fly them,” said Tom. Additional guidelines include not flying within a certain number of miles of an airport, not flying at night or above 400 feet in the air.
Tom engaged the crowd in a drone flying demonstration following the informational session. With the use of a simple button on Tom’s flying application on his iPad, the drone rose four feet off the ground and hovered. The drone made a humming sound resembling a large hive of honeybees. Tom then sent his drone across rows and rows of corn, back to the corner of the field he was perusing. All the while, the images the drone was capturing over two hundred feet below him, was played back to the television for the audience to observe.This impressive piece of technology has many capabilities now and Tom expects them to continue to grow. Tom stated there is current testing being done for drone crop dusting which would allow farmers to spray pesticides on their fields without running the rows. The future holds endless possibilities for drone uses in the world of farming.