Aerial Farming with GoPro and DJI Phantom 2

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Phantom 2 Vision (Photo credit: echeng)

I’ve been talking about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for several weeks now, but now I finally have my very own DJI Phantom 2.  I’m writing this post on a Saturday, and I’ve had the UAV and related gear in my possession since this past Tuesday.  I’ve never been great with RC stuff, and flying is the worst.  But I’m already flying pretty well with my Phantom because of all the tech built into the UAV.  With a compass and GPS on board this thing is super stable.  If I get in trouble I just take my hands off the controls and it sits still wherever it may be.  If I have trouble getting it back, have a low battery, or lose connection it will come right back and land from wherever it launched because the GPS locks in the starting position.  I can also just flip a fail safe switch or turn of the radio and the ship will come home.  And with live video feed being transmitted from my GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition I can see whatever the camera is seeing which allows me to fly far beyond line of sight.  Trust me, line of sight is not very far!  This feature also allows me to pick up flying easily because it’s like a video game for me, and I’ve spent quite a few hours with a controller in my hands.

Farm Uses for UAV

AgNerd Pickup Truck via thefarmerslife.comThere are many uses for UAVs in agriculture.  On our farm I’m going to be scouting our crops while they are growing.  It’s really hard to beat a view from the sky because I literally have a different perspective of my fields.  When walking fields looking for weeds, pests, or disease I can only take in so much from ground level.  Being above the corn and soybeans will give me the ability to see the extent of various problems and help me make better decisions on how to deal with them.  Please check out my article on CNN’s Eatocracy for several more ideas for UAV use in agriculture.

What Have I Done with My UAV So Far?

DJI Phantom 2 via thefarmerslife.comI’d be lying if I said this stuff wasn’t a ton of fun, and I’m probably going to be mostly having fun and learning for a while.  It’s winter so we only have some dormant cover crops and wheat right now.  Once planting season is over I’d like to come up with some kind of schedule for flying over each of our fields on a regular basis.  I actually think we should be walking our fields more often than we have been.  Summer is hot and humid, and even farmers don’t always get a kick out of walking their fields.  This Phantom 2 and associated payload will probably actually get boots on the ground more often because if I find a problem we’ll need to go check it out on foot anyway.  But in the short week I’ve had this stuff I’ve learned a lot about what I should and should not be doing.
For example, I can land on our deck though I definitely won’t be taking off from there again soon.  I just about took off right into the second story overhang.  I’ve taken some really cool pictures from near our house and over a field.  I’ve made a couple of YouTube videos already, and I know there will be more really awesome footage once tractors start rolling again.  Just wait.  It’s gonna be great!

Here are a few examples of what I’ve done already.  Please enjoy them, and be sure to stick around for much, much more on this subject!  I should also give a shout out to Chad Colby for helping me get started and Aerial Media Pros for putting together the great kit I bought.

DJI Phantom 2 with GoPro via thefarmerslife.comAfter two days of flying with no payload so I could get my feet wet I hung the gimbal and camera and explored my immediate area.  I’m flying forward full speed here which is why the two front arms and propellers can be seen.  The red LED lights indicate the front of the ship.

Farm Drainage Aerial View via the farmerslife.comToday I ventured out to the field we installed all that new drainage in this fall.  The wider dark path all the left side laterals run to is the main line we installed last year.  I retraced it this year the chisel plow so it could easily be found.  A shorter main connecting the 9 laterals on the right was a decision we made because the big main follows the path of a large county tile.  Rather than mess with trying to miss (aka cut and repair) the county tile we just opted to put in a short main of our own on the other side for those 9 lines.  They can’t be seen now, but there are more laterals entering the longer main that were installed last year.

This video begins where our two mains and the county line dump into an open ditch.  From there I fly out over the whole installation.  The tilled patch at the far end has new laterals as well.  We made a lot of tracks there digging up and removing rocks so we worked that area with the chisel plow between the new lines.

About Matthew Boucher

Matt Boucher is a 4th generation family grain farmer raising corn, soybeans and wheat. Quality seed and service provider. Family always comes first in family farm.

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