Farmers in Michigan will soon be using drones to better manage their fields, and hopefully to use less water, fertilizer and herbicides.
The term “drone” rightfully brings up negative images of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) doing terrible things—or, rather, allowing their human operators to do terrible things—like killing 50 civilians for every one “militant” in Pakistan.
But UAVs or drones can also be put to good use. For example, Michigan State University just acquired a drone that will fly over agricultural fields and monitor the health of farmers’ crops. This will allow farmers to better manage their fields, and to hopefully use less water, fertilizer and herbicides, said Bruno Basso, an ecosystem scientist at the university.
So far, the system has been tested in Europe to prove that it works but has yet to be flown over crop fields in the states, Basso said. But previous tests have shown that it is capable of measuring the nitrogen content of plants—whether or not they may need fertilizer—and if they need water.
The device, which is about six feet by six feet and has four rotors to keep it aloft, is designed to fly about 100 feet above crop fields and take high-resolution images of entire farms, with enough detail that it can make out the identity of individual plants, Basso said.