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Best Practices for Standardizing Data Collection with Aerial Imagery
| April 28, 2022 |

Whatever your particular role within the agriculture industry, one thing is certain: precision agriculture tools and technology, such as aerial imagery, has the power to take your business to new heights. 

How, you ask? For one thing, this method captures data 25 percent faster than manual methods – and delivers that data 50 percent faster. And, when it comes to accuracy, using drones and satellites to capture aerial imagery provides you with 100 percent coverage (in real time!) with a less than one percent data error rate. Why wouldn’t you want to collect more accurate data in less time, right?

That being said, it’s important to note that not every form of aerial imagery – or method of data collection – is right for every stage of the growing season. The data you’re hoping to collect and standardize, as well as when you’re hoping to gather it, will determine what you should use to collect and analyze that information. 

If you aren’t already collecting data via aerial imagery but are interested in doing so, you’ll first want to familiarize yourself with the drone systems and sensors available to determine which options best fit your needs. You can learn about drones and sensors in depth here, but here are a few things you’ll want to know:

Sensor capability: Different drone systems have the ability to collect different drone data. The most common is visual color RGB (red, green, blue); these images appear pretty much the way you’d view them with your naked eye, and most commercial drones are equipped with an RGB camera. 

Multispectral allows you to learn more about plant health by showing you things you cannot see with the naked eye, like insights into crop conditions based on how vegetation reflects light in near infrared spectrums. 

Plot Trial Data - NDVI Visualization
Example of a multispectral image (NDVI) captured via a drone of a plot trial 

 

And, if you’re looking for the most repeatable, highest precision analysis available, you may need calibrated multispectral, which is most commonly used in seed performance and academic research.

Coverage: Depending on the size of the area you expect to cover, you may be fine with an entry-level multi-rotor drone for a smaller operation. But, if you have a larger operation, a larger multi-rotor or even fixed-wing drone may be useful, since these have greater endurance and coverage, allowing you to collect data over a larger area with less effort.

Footprint and Operation: Now, even though a larger drone might appeal due to coverage capabilities, it’s not so useful if you don’t have room to store it or transport it in your vehicle. And, when it comes to operating the drones, it’s important to know that those larger, fixed-wing drones might offer great coverage, but they also require more planning and skill to operate than multi-rotor platforms.

Now that you know a bit about what to look for in a drone system – and you understand just how big a difference this aerial imagery can make when it comes to the accuracy of your data – it might be helpful to see how these agriculture solutions might benefit your specific industry.

Research and Development

Collecting data from your plot trial for product development isn’t only faster and easier when you use aerial imagery. It also provides greater objectivity and accuracy with your measurements and analytics, makes it possible for you to scale your data collection methods, and, once data collection is complete, standardizing and visualizing that data with real-time monitoring of performance is a snap.

For research and development, precision and accuracy trump all. Knowing this, using a multi-imager – or a sensor that has multiple lenses that all work together to capture detailed imagery – can be the best option. In addition to providing science-grade measurements, these sensors also have options for radiometric calibration to remove any variability – meaning you can trust that the data will give you precise insight day over day, week over week, for true insight into plot trial performance. 

Seed Production

Looking for ways to improve your seed productionAerial imagery has your back once again. This technology allows you to validate detasseling and product purity, forecast your yield, and monitor performance in real time – and that makes it possible for you to make important decisions in a timely manner, giving you the best chance at meeting your goals. 

Machine learning is an important component of high-throughput phenotyping for seed breeding, too, and the use of aerial imagery plays a key role in increasing frequency and accuracy of measurements along with speeding up the time to analysis.

Much like research and development, having an ag drone system that is designed to capture precise detail with unprecedented accuracy comes first. Especially when you look at digitally verifying detasseling operations, it’s important that you can track data down to the tassel to understand what is happening within the field. 

For this, having a drone that has the endurance to cover acres faster paired with a sensor that offers versatility for drone collection will be important. We may be biased, but we love our PHX Fixed-Wing Drone paired with the Double 4K Analytics Sensor

 

Crop Production

In the crop production segment, the benefits of aerial imagery simply can’t be overstated. For seed dealers and other agronomic advisors working with growers, using drones and satellites to capture data from 100 percent acre coverage – and using that data to show your growers what’s working, what’s not, and provide suggestions for what they can do to maximize their yield at varying stages of the growing cycle – is an invaluable way to build a strong relationship and provide a customer experience that’ll set you apart from the competition. 

And, for the growers themselves, aerial imagery is the most precise and efficient way for them to gather data, year after year, to better identify trends or unexpected changes in their fields or crops, allowing them to make adjustments in the field to improve performance and dial in their market strategy. And that’s not all – the data collected from aerial imagery can also help them build comprehensive portfolios that can help them negotiate loans, leases, insurance, and more.  

For crop production, the options for drone and sensor combinations can be overwhelming. But, it all comes down to the data you want to collect and how you’re going to use it. 

Those that are seeking an entry point to see what aerial imagery is all about would do well with an entry-level drone and sensor that focuses on capturing crop health maps – like NDVI and NDRE. Once you dip the toe into the water, however, the data becomes addicting. That opens up the universe of ag drones to far more options that are designed to get more detailed analytics, from early emergence data to end-of-season outcomes and yield forecasting

 

Of course, as is the case with any data, regardless of how you collect it, being clear on what you need to know from the get-go is the key to efficiency. Collecting more data without a plan for how to use it is never an efficient use of resources, so plan ahead and choose wisely. 

Whether you’re just getting started or seeking a sensor upgrade, our 2023 Ag Drones & Sensors Buyer’s Guide gives you the insight you need to determine the best solution for you. Download it now

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