Aerial drone may become crop pest scout; flying camera to be shown at MU, July 17

Monday, July 7, 2014

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- A drone aircraft hovering over a soybean field may be the super scout for pests of the future. An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) carrying a video camera can spot an outbreak of aphids or leafhoppers not seen from the fence row.

Drone use and more will be topics at the Farmer Technology Field Day, July 17 at the University of Missouri Bradford Research Center.

"I've crossed the state, urging growers to get out into their fields to scout insects and diseases," says Bill Wiebold, MU Extension soybean specialist.

"It's hard to walk through a bean field once the leaf canopy covers the rows," Wiebold said. "You can get lost in a cornfield. As a result, few really go out into their fields."

Those coming to the field day at Bradford are reminded that Highway WW, the usual route east from Columbia, is closed for bridge repair, Wiebold said. Alternate routes are Rangeline Road from I-70 East and Highway AC from Highway 63 South, Columbia.

Other new technology includes precision mapping of crop fields. That can improve yields by localized treatment of field variability. Brent Myers, MU corn specialist, will show how field maps are made and loaded into corn-planter computers.

Most farm equipment, from tractors to combines, has computers.

The days of treating a whole field the same are gone. Data makes precision management possible.

After corn is up and going, sensors that measure leaf color -- dark green to yellow -- guide application of nitrogen fertilizer where it is needed. Precision application cuts fertility cost. Better yields can result, MU Extension Soil Specialist Peter Scharf said.

Rob Kallenbach, MU forage specialist, has software that tells which pasture paddock is ready for grazing next. The Web-based grazing wedge guides herd movement in management-intensive grazing systems.

Grazing wedge software requires constant updating with dry matter growth per acre. That requires walking the paddock and measuring grass.

At the technology fair, Kallenbach will show an ultrasonic device mounted on an all-terrain vehicle. Grass data is collected and stored in an onboard computer. Measuring happens at the speed of an ATV.

"New technology allows high-speed application of data," Wiebold said. "In many cases farmers already collect needed data. Now that data can be applied to better management."

At farmer meetings everyone figures out new possible uses for drones, Wiebold said. Beef producers can monitor their cow herd. That can be most useful at calving time.

The drone technology is not approved by the FAA for use by commercial services. However, individual farmers use drones over their own property, he said. Rules and regulations are being rewritten.

"Last week, FAA issued a new interpretation in 'Special Rule for Model Aircraft,'" he said. "Rules as they stand in July 2014 along with privacy issues will be discussed."

The technology fair covers basics and includes demonstrations.

Vendors will be under the Big Top tent showing available wares.

Registration is required by calling Thresa Chism at 573-884-7954 at Bradford.

The research center, a part of the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, is east of Columbia. Highway WW is closed just east of Columbia.

From I-70, turn south at Exit 133, Highway Z. Go to the first stop sign, jog left to the next stop sign and turn right on Rangeline Road. The farm is 4 miles ahead.

From Columbia, go east from Highway 63 South at the AC exit onto New Haven Road. Go about 5.5 miles to Rangeline Road and turn right 1 mile.

For those using GPS technology, set 4968 Rangeline Road on the device.

Bridge construction will keep Highway WW closed for about 45 days, affecting field days at the MU research center.