Drone technology useful tool for farmers

Researchers at Michigan State University have discovered that drones can be very useful for farmers who want to fly it over their farm to study crop health, etc. (WSMH)

Drones are all the rage in 2017, but they aren't just used for fun and games.

Today's technology can make it easier than ever for people to do their job.

"We found out that we could really start to see differences in the plants," said Robert Goodwin, MSU Senior Geospatial Analyst.

Robert Goodwin with the Michigan State University department of Geography recently teamed up with a professor in the Horticulture Department.

Together they discovered drones have a practical use for farmers, especially those who grow cash crops like corn, soybeans, or wheat.

It's a cutting edge technology, and many farmers already use it in Michigan.

"We can fly much lower than what a traditional aircraft can, typically we're flying anywhere from 100 feet up to 400 feet which is the maximum under the regulations so we can get very close and our resolution is very good," said Goodwin.

It used to take countless hours and thousands of dollars to evaluate a farm, now with a drone they can get a bird's eye view and see things they couldn't always see before.

"You can do it for a much broader area you're not worrying about getting out into the field to do all this sampling. It will make the process much more streamlined," explained Dr. Bert Cregg, an Associate Professor of Horticulture/Forestry.

In one example, farmers or a company they hire can fly a drone with a near-infrared sensor over a plantation of Christmas trees.

By putting the information into a map or GIS (Geographic Information System), they can quickly determine the number and height of trees.

"If they can get an idea of the number of trees they have in their fields that are saleable, the size of the trees, that's huge information for them to really simplify their planning,” said Dr. Cregg.

Farmers could also use a drone to identify parts of the field that need a little extra help.

"If we can fly these fields, and see well 95% of the field is fine, there's a couple areas over here, well then we fertilize over there, we don't have to fertilize the whole field," explained Dr. Cregg.

They could save thousands of dollars flying a drone instead of a plane and they can fly it more often to get updates on the plant progress.

It's a way to for farmers to save some green, both in terms of money and the environment.

"Whether it's Christmas trees or corn or anything else, growers want to do the right thing, they want to be efficient they want to be efficient in terms of their own resources but also in terms of being good environmental stewards," said Dr. Cregg.

These two researchers from MSU say with today's rapidly changing technology, the sky's the limit for using drones on the farm.

MSU will offer several "drone to GIS” workshops between now and September to teach people how to use drones in their business.

For more information on those workshops, you can visit

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