UAV Potential For Ranchers

Town and Country

Multispectral imagery and UAVs a potential combination for pasture management.

Published on: February 19, 2014

Flying a UAV across a room is one way to get peoples' attentions. It sure got my attention at the 2014 Global Ag Symposium in Concordia a few weeks ago, when natural resource engineer for University of Missouri Extension in Boone County, Kent Shannon piloted a PJI Phantom across the stage of the Concordia Community Center.

Farmers love looking at the newest equipment and technology, and UAVs, or unmanned aerial vehicles, are definitely one of the key topics heard in the precision ag sector these days. It's safe to say UAVs have a lot of potential, but it's also true that for the moment, it's just another data layer. Like any technology, it will take time for farmers to adopt. Some applications will require proper training and instructors. Analyzing and making decisions off of raw data collected through remote sensing will require training agronomists in remote sensing – as KARTA member Dietrich Kastens has explained.

Potential for pasture management
We've heard a lot about using multispectral imagery and UAVs to identify how certain factors affect crop yields, but this can also be good combination for cattle producers, something Kansas State University agronomy and geography professor Kevin Price has been researching. Distinguishing between different forage types is possible, allowing ranchers to monitor where high concentrations of invasive species are. For example, Price recently took an infrared photo of an Old World bluestem pasture from a remote-controlled airplane. In this pasture, invasive sericea stood out as a darker red in comparison to lighter pink of the bluestem.

UAVs could also help measure forage growth for better grazing management, Shannon says. Producers would likely do this by monitoring grass height through technology like LiDAR, a kind of remote sensing technology which measures distance byilluminating a target and analyzing reflected light. "You can correlate height of the forage to how much biomass is available," Shannon explains. "If I can fly out over multiple paddocks and know I've got so many grazing days in these paddocks compared to other paddocks that could be a useful tool."