California Farmer Focuses on the Future of Drone Technology

News / FBNews Apr 7th, 2017

Credit: Tim Stahmer / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Family-owned and operated, Bowles Farming in the Central Valley in California is taking a close look at the best ways to measure almost every aspect of how they operate—from labor use, to soil variability to environmental impact and profitability. According to Danny Royer, Bowles Farming’s vice president of technology, drones will no doubt be a key measurement and analysis tool—but they’re not there quite yet.

Bowles Farming has been in operation for more than 150 years. They grow 12,000 acres of irrigated diversified row crops.

“Our focus right now is learning where the technology is going to take us,” Royer said. “We know that today it might not be doing exactly what we want it to do, or it might not be fitting perfectly into our operation, but it will get there. So let’s start shaping our operation to be prepared for when it is.”

Royer is awaiting the availability of software that stitches thermal images together—puts all the pictures a drone takes into one image. And when it’s online, he plans to use it to cut water use by 5 percent over the next few years:  Irrigating crops on a farm of Bowles’ size requires a significant amount of water and plugging even the smallest leak can have a big impact on the farm’s bottom line.

“Until that technology is there, my ability to scale and really create a full-circle system in which I use the drone to take pictures to identify leaks and then allocate my labor resources accordingly is very limited,” he said. 

While much of Royer’s enthusiasm for drones focuses on the future, Bowles Farming is currently using drone-provided near-infrared imagery to look at vegetative growth.

We’re using that information to do targeted soil sampling to identify the differences in the soil types. Then, when we go to do our soil remediation program, we’re putting different types of materials down, depending on what the soil samples are telling us. Basically, it’s a resource allocation problem and we’re just trying to become more precise with allocating those resources.
—  Danny Royer, vice president of technology for Bowles Farming.

He continued, “In the past our measurements have been more aggregated, but my goal over the next three to five years is to cut soil amendments through our remediation program by 15 percent.”

Royer advises fellow farmers who are interested in using drones to be patient.

“The drone companies that are doing the data processing are starting to mature a little bit so the types of solutions that are going to be coming out in the next year or two are going to be more direct and tangible,” he said.

It’s still unclear exactly how farms will use the tool, Royer explained, but he expects more third-party outlets and existing servicers and suppliers will be stepping up to the plate soon.  He recommends that farmers start pushing their suppliers, like fertilizer companies. “Ask them, ‘What are you doing to be ahead of the game with this technology?’”

Another thing to think about, according to Royer: While many farms and ranches embrace the idea of drones and their many benefits, not everyone involved with the operation may be so enthusiastic.

“This technology is changing how we do things, and whenever we change our environment or how our relationships work, anxiety can arise. You don’t want to have relationships in your organization go south just because you’re trying to bring on new technology that’s going to help everybody,” he cautioned. “Be aware of that and manage it.”

Drone World Expo

The latest in drone technology and much more will be discussed at the Drone World Expo, a two-day conference that focuses on the latest advancements in the commercial drone industry. 

Through its partnership with the DWE, Farm Bureau is offering members free registration for the event, which will take place October 3-4, 2017, at the San Jose Convention Center.

The conference will feature sessions and case studies addressing the ever-evolving regulatory environment for commercial drone use, as well as the most up-to-date and critical information for professionals using drone technology for agriculture, mapping and surveying, utilities, oil and gas, conservation initiatives, real estate and much more. 

Farm Bureau members who are end-users of drone technology qualify for a complimentary full conference pass. Non-end-users will receive free expo passes, which include admission to exhibits, keynotes, Tech Talks, demos and receptions. Use code “FBNEWS” for free registration at www.droneworldexpo.com/fbn.

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Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture / CC BY 2.0 

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