Cutting Edge Farmers Look to the Sky to Scout Crops


Modern tractors drive themselves. What was once science fiction is science fact. Now farmers on the cutting edge look to the sky.

From the battlefield to the farm field, unmanned aerial devices are showing up in unexpected places.

The University of Nebraska deploys drones, as scientists look for ways to use less water and fertilizer.

Dr. Richard Ferguson said, "My research and others for the university is looking at how we can detect stress early, before it's an economic issue, how we can apply inputs in a way that's environmentally sound so inputs are minimized."

And why not? A quarter section of corn can be worth tens of thousands of dollars and devices like the one Ferguson is testing are just a fraction of that.

He said, "The cost of these technologies anymore is inconsequential when you think of the value of a crop."

Specifically Ferguson uses sensors that measure the temperature of the crop and soil, the height of the corn, even wavelengths of light.

And it's not that different from stuff we use every day.

"There are many sensors in a cell phone that are really miniaturized, same concept, some of technology in a cell phone will work its way into ag as well," he said.

But there's a catch. The government allows researches to play with these flying devices, but not the rest of us.

Ferguson said, "The FAA has regulations in place that don't allow commercial use of aerial platforms. That'll change the next couple of years. The market, I think, will be set to explode."

Farmers at the Nebraska Ag Technology Association Conference say drones could join tools like auto–steer tractors that once seemed like science fiction.

Brandon Hunnicutt, a farmer from Giltner said, "We see a lot of neat tools here, stuff we can actually use on the farm every day. If guys are willing to try it out, it'll work good for them. "

The University of Nebraska is actually using unmanned aerial devices in several ways, but they're especially interested in how they may help farmers.