Farmers using drones as helpful eye in the sky

Last year, Farm Intelligence used drones on 19 fields in Minnesota. This year, they’ve flown 200.

mgnonline.com

MANKATO, Minn. (CNN/KARE) — An inventor in Minnesota is going high-tech to help farmers take care of their crops. Talk to any farmer, and they’ll tell you things could always be a little better. For John Engle, the answer to better land might just be in the sky.

“Three years ago, about middle of the night, I woke up and turned on Minnesota Public Radio, and they were talking about a farmer in England who was flying over his fields with a drone,” said Jerry Johnson. “I thought, ‘Holy smokes! What a great idea.’”

Johnson is an inventor and owner of more than 50 patents. His new company, Farm Intelligence, is growing fast.

“There’s a wireless network that will send data back to the computer,” said Johnson, speaking about the technology inside the drone.

His latest design is called the Vireo Air Vehicle. At three pounds, the battery-powered automated farm drone can survey every single plant in a farmer’s field, showing any trouble spots a farmer may not be able to see from the ground.

“They can show us lack of nitrogen, water stress, they can show us where the bugs are,” said Johnson.

The trick is in the wingscan sensors, allowing farmers to see into the future — so to speak.

“You can see things way before the human eye can sense them, so you can take some corrective action,” said Engle.

Johnson’s other drone, a four-prop helicopter, is said to be 20 times more precise than satellite imagery.

“The potential of UAVs, we are only hitting the tip of the iceberg,” said Johnson.

Last year, Farm Intelligence used drones on 19 fields in Minnesota. This year, they’ve flown 200.

“This is the future,” said Johnson. For Johnson, only the sky is the limit. If you are wondering about the cost to farmers, Farm Intelligence charges about $10 an acre.

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