NDVI Case Study:

Enhancing agronomic decision making with precise crop health data and powerful analytics

How two agronomists use Sentera solutions to make more timely and better informed management decisions

When it comes to agricultural equipment, many of the country’s largest farm operations rely on RDO Equipment Company. With 75 locations in the United States and a network of international partnerships, the RDO name has become synonymous with trusted advice and expertise. The company’s success hinges on providing valuable, timely insights and recommendations to their customers.

Sentera’s partnership with RDO was established in 2016. Since then, RDO agronomists and crop consultants have used Sentera solutions to help their customers collect and analyze data to help inform management decisions.

NDVI Case Study | Nate Dorsey RDO Equipment | Sentera | Farm Drone ROI | Agronomist Case Study

Nate Dorsey

Agronomist, RDO Equipment

Nate Dorsey joined RDO in 2015, shortly after obtaining his master’s degree in agronomy from Kansas State University. Based in Yuma, Arizona, Nate oversees a team of precision agriculture consultants. Nate’s team seeks to enable their customers (and, by extension, their customers’ agronomists or other trusted advisors), equipping them with the tools and information they need to make the best management decisions.

Time is Money

Nate’s customers are large-scale producers who are farming between 20,000 and 50,000 acres of high-value specialty crops like lettuce, carrots, celery, and broccoli. Many of these crops have short growth cycles, leading to very high field turnover rates. Lettuce, for example, is typically harvested after just two months. Because the timeframe is so condensed, some of Nate’s customers were hesitant to invest time and resources in obtaining UAV imagery out of concern that the data wouldn’t be processed quickly enough to be actionable.

Because every day counts, in order for these producers to see value, they need precise, accurate data that is available immediately.

When asked how Sentera solutions stack up against competitors, Nate says:

“Sentera products are among the most user-friendly — in terms of flight planning and actually flying the field, it’s very simple. Other systems that bill themselves as professional-level tend to be a bit more cumbersome and harder to set up. For farmers, the Sentera system is perfect, because it’s easy, straightforward, and doesn’t take much time to learn.”

Sentera’s products are designed for efficiency, from setup to insight. Early on, Nate’s team compared the amount of time required to set up the Sentera system to a competitor, and found that it look less than half the amount of time to go from site arrival to data collection.

In flight, Sentera collects more acres per minute, and delivers analytics and imagery products at the field edge, without requiring connectivity. Everything is tuned to make the most efficient use of the operator’s time.

Decisions Using NDVI and More

Although the majority of Nate’s clients use NDVI imagery, the equipment has been used in other ways as well, such as identifying equipment issues to prevent yield loss:

“There was a customer who was having germination problems. When we flew the field, we saw that he had a planter setup issue. There were areas of the field where the planter was planting twice as much seed as it was supposed to — wasting seed — and then in other areas, it wasn’t planting anything at all. Obviously, where there are no plants, there’s nothing to harvest at the end of the season. By flying the field, we were able to identify the issue and help him set up his planter correctly.”

Had the field been flown earlier and the problem detected sooner, a replant prescription could have been made to allow the grower to recuperate 10% of yield by Nate’s estimation.

Section Control RGB
Section Control NDVI
Much less visible to the naked eye (top), the NDVI data (bottom) revealed a planter issue.

In addition to allowing users to assess plant vigor with True NDVI data, Sentera solutions also enable you to collect stand count data much more quickly and earlier in the season than via traditional methods. According to Nate, having this data readily available enables yield estimation and the ability to make management decisions. He explains:

“If you have a planter malfunction, or the soil was too wet, too cold, or there was a germination problem, that immediately impacts what your field is capable of producing. So, having stand count data as early in the season as possible is important. When you have that data, you can start estimating yield potential and making management decisions — should you put out fertilizer, or is the problem so bad that you need to replant certain areas — what’s the most economical decision?

When you get above the crop and get a map of the whole field, that really gives you a full view of what’s going on. From there, you can go out to the problem areas and diagnose the problem—whether it’s to do with seed, water, or disease.” —Nate Dorsey, Agronomist

NDVI Case Study | Erin Hightower RDO Equipment | Sentera | Farm Drone ROI | Agronomist Case Study

Erin Hightower, CCA

Agronomist, RDO Equipment

In RDO’s northwest region, Erin Hightower serves as the Certified Crop Advisor (CCA) and agronomist. She has a master’s degree in agriculture and more than ten years of experience as an agronomist. When Erin’s clients are deciding whether or not to invest in new technology and equipment, ROI matters most:

“The bottom line is the bottom line. We can have the greatest piece of equipment in the world, but if implementing it costs three times what the producer is going to get back per acre, it’s not a good investment. Our focus is on making sure producers are seeing a return. If a piece of equipment brings back two dollars for every dollar spent, it’s a good investment.”

Enhanced Data Points

“What I tell producers is that UAVs do not take the place of putting a knee to the ground. What you’re doing when you use UAV data is making sure your knee hits the ground in the right place. By combining UAV data and ground truthing, you’ll catch problems earlier, which means you’ll be able to address them sooner.”

With enhanced capabilities like NDVI Toolbox®, Sentera FieldAgent can quickly isolate the potential trouble spots in a field. Smart tools that exclude roads, ditches, and other non-crop areas allow customers to focus resources only on growable acres.

Erin stressed how useful FieldAgent’s ability to drill down and manipulate NDVI data in real-time using the NDVI Toolbox feature has been when assessing crop health imagery:

“What I really like about the Sentera maps more than any other is that I can customize the NDVI data. I have other software that doesn’t allow me to do that. When you look at an NDVI map, the darkest red could be a dirt road or dead cover crop, which I don’t care about. What I love about Sentera’s NDVI Toolbox is that I can move the red slide up and turn that dirt road black. Then, the areas that remain red represent actual problems in that field. That’s the beauty of Sentera’s product — I can customize the data and get something that’s actually usable instead of getting a false negative reading.”

Value-added Capabilities

NDVI Toolbox also includes Zone Management and simple prescription and shapefile generation tools. These provide efficient, standard ways to push data to other tools or directly into equipment.

The Zone Management tool transforms a high-resolution raster field map into zones based on various types of data: NDVI, NDRE (Red Edge), population analysis, stand count, and weed density. Then the data can be exported to the John Deere Operations Center or other precision agriculture applications.

For example, combined with a population map, customers can identify areas of the field that share statistically similar populations and export the data to your planter. Or, when combined with NDVI, determine zones that are at similar levels of vigor or biomass.

The simple prescription tool allows for application rate selection based on NDVI zones. Data exported from the prescription tool can be used by most leading in-cab systems to perform precision input applications.

Reliable, Repeatable, Strategic Solutions that Boost your Bottom Line

Today, farming is a precise and technically sophisticated practice. Activities must be well-planned and driven by historical and real-time insights. Sentera solutions, in conjunction with other precision equipment and ground truthing, allow crop consultants and agronomists to ensure sure that the equipment they recommend will meet each client’s unique needs.

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