Farmers deem drones ready for takeoff.

Author:Romig, Suzie
Position:STATE of the STATE

After 28 years as a crop consultant in Colorado, Maya Kuile-Miller of Cactus Hill Ag Consulting in the San Luis Valley is looking forward to a technology that may just save her knees. She knows too many consultants whose knees are shot from walking for miles through the uneven ground of plowed fields and being tugged on by knee-high plants.

The solution? Perhaps a drone.

"For me the drone would be a more targeted technology for scouting," Miller says. "It's an easy 50 percent time savings for me, and this would help us avoid major errors."

The crop consultant has noticed "a huge interest" in agricultural community conversations about drones, or unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Miller is investigating drone package options before taking the financial plunge. She has her sights set on models ranging from $12,000 to $36,000 including a multispectral image camera. She believes the investment could pay for itself through faster job completion for more clients within just a few growing seasons.

Images from remote-controlled drones help locate crop problems related to planting, irrigation, fertilizer or pests. A small multi-rotor copter drone can cover a 160-acre field in 22 minutes, or approximately 1,000 acres in a work day of flying.

Early in the season, aerial images might catch a serious problem such as nematodes that munch on the roots of emerging plants. Late in the season, drones are useful because tall crops are difficult to walk or see through, and traditional piloted plane flights for aerial photography are expensive.

Agribotix in Boulder specializes in processing imagery from drones and offers $12,000 drone packages. The company that started in 2013 now has 16 employees and has sold more than 100 drones across the world...

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