Tom Buman, president of Agren in Carroll, Iowa, has seen the expansion of LiDAR mapping across the country. For the past several years, his small firm has been developing and licensing time-saving conservation software for USDA, state, and local conservationists in locating and making estimates for practices like ponds, waterways and terraces.
"Very few field offices still stake out contour lines for a farmer to follow in planting," Buman says. "And frankly, it makes much more sense to use elevation data. Where LiDAR is available, a conservationist --public or private -- can use LiDAR contour maps to draw contour lines on a map without having to walk and survey a field. He or she can then provide an electronic file copy to the farmer quickly. That file can be uploaded to the steering system so the farmer can follow contour lines without any delays."
Buman's company develops software that formats LiDAR data and makes its use state-specific for conservation purposes.
Will conservation technology keep up?
Buman says such technology is quickly becoming ingrained in farming today, and will be increasingly important in the future. "Robots are in development now that will identify and zap weeds, sense ripeness and pick fruit in the next 20 to 40 years," Buman says. "And some scientists are envisioning intelligent robots that talk to each other to monitor, collect data, and care for plants in ways far beyond what are economically feasible today. They see swarms of small bots that will monitor soil conditions, photograph and analyze plants, and detect insect infestations and diseases before they become widespread."