From the field to the sky; Purdue University Uses Drone Technology For Agriculture


FARMLAND, Ind. – Harvest time has come, but the work does not stop for the farmers when the crops leave the field, in some ways they start again.

Hoosier farmers are busy this week avoiding raindrops while planting cover crops like radishes, wheat and oats. This winter product line helps keep the soil and the nutrients in it until next year.

Purdue University is using drones to do what tractors can’t, as they say the future of farming may be above the ground.

“I think this drone is absolutely amazing,” said Mark Carter, educator for Purdue Extension Precision AG. “We use it to spread seeds. Use it to spray pesticides, herbicides. We can do it very precisely. It’s very controlled.

Remotely controlled, Purdue University employs nearly 25 drones throughout Indiana at various AG centers. Each drone can carry around 25 pounds of seeds or liquid which is then programmed and spread over any field.

“You think of the first tractor that pulled something without horses… it was technology,” Carter said. “This is just the next step. We have a digital agriculture where we map everything, we track every acre, and we immediately started to see different results.

Using their eight-propeller tools, farmers can plot their fields, plant more precisely, and get a real-time view of what is typically reserved for birds.

“Real-time information can let you know if you have any emerging issues… whether it’s diseases or insects, weeds or water issues,” Carter said. “You can see it from above. and you don’t need a bunch of fancy software, you just have to fly and take a look and see what’s there.

While most newer tractors are equipped with satellite technology that allows them to be precise to the nearest centimeter, these often self-contained tractors are still insufficient when the weather is wet.

“The fields are so muddy that if you put a tractor in now, it will sink. It will ruin the land. It’s going to make a big mess, ”Carter said. “The good thing about this technology with drones is that I am spreading cover crops today when we couldn’t get the tractor and the seeder to plant the cover crop. although we have waited a few days… and the weather today is favorable. to crash – why waste time?

If time is money, Carter says farmers should be all ears.

“Every dollar counts, our seasons aren’t always the longest and the weather is always a variable, so every minute counts,” Carter said. “Our margins are slim, which is why all of this really matters.”

At Purdue University’s Davis Purdue AG Center along County Road 900 West at Farmland, a few miles northeast of Muncie; educators like Carter and AG-Center superintendent Jeff Boyer take the time to test new technologies so hardworking producers don’t have to.

“The history of agriculture in Indiana has been a history of progress. It’s very important, I think, in some of the things we’re doing here with the price of seeds, fertilizers, and herbicides these days… you can save on product in a lot of cases with technology like this at at your disposal, ”said Boyer. “We do the testing to keep farmers from getting bored because sometimes things work and sometimes they don’t. “

Purdue University is also offering courses for farmers to help them pass the FAA Part 107 UAV licensing course to help more Hoosier farmers achieve their FAA certifications to fly their own commercial drones.

“Overall it’s an improvement in efficiency as things change and evolve, but this technology isn’t for everyone. There are people who say no, I’m going to use my sprayer… I’m going to do my own spotting in the field, I’m going to use the satellite for spotting in the field, which is absolutely fine, ”said Boyer. “It’s virtually impossible to predict where things can go in the future. But it’s fun to be a part of that change and over time the drones will get bigger I think so you will have more capacity to do more things and the cost will also drop to make it more affordable.

Bringing farms into the future by carrying seeds in the sky, Purdue believes all of their tests will yield positive results, meaning more drones could be buzzing in the fields near you.

“Anything these drones can do is creating a more positive environment, healthier soil if you will, for soybeans, corn, wheat, whatever your cash crop,” Carter said. “The technology is absolutely amazing,” Carter said. “We use it in incredible ways working with producers, working with local communities to educate and inform. “

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