Waypoint

Nathan Stein on Farming with senseFly’s eBee Ag Drone

The editor of Nebraska Farmer, Tyler Harris, caught up with senseFly’s ag solutions manager, Nathan Stein, at Husker Harvest Days in Grand Island, Nebraska. Watch the video interview below as they discuss what the eBee Ag farming drone offers today’s ag professionals, then delve deeper as we follow-up with Nathan ourselves, discussing hot drone topics like data privacy and local-versus-cloud processing.

First off, here is Tyler Harris’ Husker Harvest Days video interview with Nathan Stein:

Following the Husker Days event, we posed a few additional questions to Nathan to flesh out his comments still further. Here’s what he had to say:

In the video you talk about senseFly having “come to the farmer” to create a precision farming drone that suits their needs. Can you tell us a little more about what makes the eBee Ag a useable, relevant data collection tool for this industry?

It’s a product made with simplicity in mind, that’s the key. Farmers have little time to learn an entirely new technology, so ease of use is really important; the ability to quickly deploy a system without a big learning curve. Especially since gathering timely imagery is so critical to assessing a crop’s health and development.

Plus at a software level, we’ve done a lot of work to adapt and further optimise the Postflight Terra 3D software supplied with our eBee Ag, meaning you can now use this to rapidly take the drone’s imagery and turn this into variable rate prescriptions – quickly and easily from within the same program.

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You mention data privacy in the interview. What feedback do you get from farmers ‘in the field’ on this issue?

Data privacy is important to farmers because this data is their livelihood. It’s everything they ever worked for and you can really learn a lot from an image, so it’s crucial that this imagery remains secure.

As such, many farmers and retailers concentrate very hard on making sure their data is as safe as possible; to them it’s as important as their banking data.

Could you explain what you said in the video about data and cellphone connections? Are you referring to the viability of the cloud processing approach?

Yes. Some drone approaches require internet connections or some kind of wired connection to upload data and get that processed. However in some parts of the world, many parts in fact, such connectivity is just not accessible. This is true in places like Africa but also in parts of rural America.

That’s why the local processing approach – processing the data yourself on your own computer – is flexible and suits so many customers. With the senseFly farming drone, you’re completely independent of any such infrastructure needs. You own it all, to do with as you wish. If a customer wants to share data after the processing is done, the most important step in reducing file size, then they can. At that point, uploading to a cloud, or opening in another analysis program or website is entirely possible. But it’s up to the customer.

You mention light and photography too. What does a farmer or crop consultant need to know about imaging when looking to assess crops with a UAS?

There are a few key lessons, but perhaps the most valuable to mention here is the effect of cloud cover. An operator needs to understand the influence that cloud cover can have on any imagery you collect.

Shadows cast across a crop, by a cloud, make a difference. So a photo of a crop field that is half in shadow, half in light will really affect your analysis. Either flying on full clouds or full sun can help in reducing issues in the analysis, whereas flying close to sundown or sunrise may not produce the desired outcome due to long shadows. Even flying at solar noon may be a bit bright and saturate some imagery.

Aside from cloud alone, the angle of the light and its brightness should always be something an operator considers and takes note of. Otherwise all other basic photography principals and common sense apply.

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“Either flying on full clouds or full sun can help in reducing issues in the analysis, whereas flying close to sundown or sunrise may not produce the desired outcome due to long shadows,” Stein says.

You described being able to take the data right through ‘from drone to tractor’, from capturing images to exporting a final prescription or application map. What types of application map are we talking about creating and is there any restriction to what an operator can produce?

With the eBee Ag workflow, we’re creating an application map that you export as a shape file. We do this by essentially down sampling the high-res imagery or the analysis to a grid size that’s more suitable for modern equipment. The reality is we like to analyse at a higher resolution so that we can factor in or out details, but truthfully we can only really control product output to 10-20 ft widths at best.

The uses of these application maps are only limited to a user’s creativity — and ag people have always been resourceful and creative! A customer can create a water irrigation prescription, a seeding rate prescription, anything that you can assign a rate to. Vegetative indices of any type can be used to make a prescription for export to a controller, like an Ag Leader or a John Deere monitor. It’s our open platform that enables customers to do this.

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“Vegetative indices of any type can be used to make a prescription for export to a controller, like an Ag Leader or a John Deere monitor,” explains Stein.

You also talk towards the end of the video about “adapting to a changing crop”. Can you elaborate a little on what this means in practice, in terms of when you might fly a farming drone during the growing season?

As always, it really depends on the situation—the crop, the region, the farm. For me, growing corn on our family’s farm in Iowa, my early season picture is really important. But it’s critical to have pictures throughout the seasons, depending on what the issues are.

The big plus of a drone is that these pictures can be taken at any time you wish, since the drone is immediately accessible and easy to fly.

Critical times can include in the early season, to assess the standing plants or the plants that actually grew, or to detect problematic regions early on, as well as later on in the season, looking at the development of diseases and pest issues.

It comes down to crop surveillance; a farmer needs to know what a crop is doing. With better information they can reinforce, draw back or even attack areas of water surplus/shortage, fertility or pests. Timely and high-quality information will always lead to a better outcome.

Thanks for the insight Nathan.

No problem.

Learn more about the use of farming drones.

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