Fascination With Flying Pays Off In Agriculture

carroll smith
Editor Carroll Smith

Memories from very early childhood are often sketchy and sometimes hard to hold on to. But the ones that survive the test of time will probably stay with us forever. I remember a flying toy — not an airplane — I played with for hours in the 1950s. It basically was a plastic contraption attached to a long string on a fishing pole. I now realize it was pretty much a glorified kite.

On a really windy day in our backyard it would “sort of” fly if the air caught it just right.

The box top billed it as the Mars Flying Saucer that would fly “as high as 3,000 feet for many hours each time.” It came with an “attractive special control rod and reel — use it for fishing, too” and was touted as “Sensational! No fuel, no engine, no upkeep expense. Banks, nosedives and somersaults like a real plane.” Not exactly truth in advertising. But at 4 years old, I was enthralled even though 3,000 feet for many hours was more like 3 feet for 15 seconds.

I thought about my Mars Flying Saucer when I first heard about drones being used in the military and again when they became popular with the general public. To me, they were just expensive toys that often got hung up in neighborhood tree limbs on Christmas afternoon.

As time went by, I got wind that drones equipped with cameras were being used in agriculture as a quick way to get a good view of a field. The technology was moving beyond the toy phase and becoming an important tool on the farm. In “A Bird’s-Eye View Of Cotton,” technology integration specialist Justin Metz explains how Bowles Farming in Los Banos, California, uses drones to optimize crop inputs.

For example, “After the first defoliant application, Metz flies every cotton field about 14 days before harvest to determine desiccation uniformity….After looking at the NDVI map, the PCA once again decides how many management zones to create and will develop a variable-rate defoliation map. By putting the defoliant only where it is needed, Bowles has been able to save up to $15 per acre on defoliation costs.”

Metz also is discovering other ways to put the drones to work to increase efficiency. And although people are still captivated by drone flight videos captured by amateurs on YouTube, professionals such as Justin Metz are employing the technology to build a healthy bottom line for farming operations. Unlike the bogus billing on the Mars Flying Saucer box top, that’s the truth!

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