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Drone Maps Diagnose Crop Problems, Demonstrate Test Results

Global agri-tech company FB Sciences discusses how drone mapping helps them demonstrate value to their clients

By Anya Lamb, Marketing Manager @DroneDeploy

Growers are using drone mapping in so many ways — for crop scouting, to generate variable rate prescription maps, to compare soil data to plant health, and much more. At the core, drone mapping helps growers detect variation in their fields.

Being able to see variation not only helps growers diagnose problems, but also helps them evaluate whether solutions are working. FB Sciences, an emerging global leader in plant health innovation, is using drone mapping on both fronts to help demonstrate the value of their products and boost sales.

Better Plant Health Through Efficient Nutrient Delivery

FB Sciences is a global agri-technology company dedicated to helping growers increase their crop yields and quality through revolutionary products. FB Sciences’ products offer a safe, practical, and environmentally sustainable solution for achieving greater crop yields and better plant health through better nutrient efficiency and have been proven to successfully increase crop yields on a variety of crops.

Show and Tell

Ken Day (left), Greg Kassabian (middle) and Matt Visser, a grower and photographer

We spoke with Kenneth Day from their Agronomic Tech Support team, as well as aerial photographer Greg Kassabian to learn more about how FB Sciences is using drones.

“For 11 years, we worked with universities and independent researchers to validate our products and scientifically prove that our products work . But some growers don’t believe it until they’ve seen it with their own eyes on their own farm,” said Ken.

That’s why Ken does demonstration trials. “Many growers want to test the products first on a field or two before incorporating them into the whole farm. It’s show and tell,” he said.

About a year ago, Ken began working with aerial photographer Greg Kassabian to capture drone imagery of the trials.

“Greg started providing pictures and videos of our customers’ and our prospective customers’ fields. We found that differences which were hard to see from the ground were much more visible from the air,” said Ken.

A couple of months ago, Greg bought an NDVI camera and began using DroneDeploy to generate maps and 3D models from his images.

“We’re just getting started, but already we recognize the value of DroneDeploy. Growers relate to the maps immediately. It’s a big improvement versus just having photos,” said Ken. [click to tweet]

A Big Improvement

“We have been using Greg’s imagery for two things: 1) improving our understanding of the field so we can better diagnose the situation and choose which products to use; and 2) documenting the difference between the grower’s standard program and the FB Sciences treated fields or parts of a field,” said Ken.

“We’re in the prescription and diagnosis business — like being plant doctors. I look at this as a diagnostic tool, it’s part of our toolbox to diagnose what’s happening. It helps us do a more accurate prescription and gives us a better way of following up progress.”

Then he proceeded to walk through two examples illustrating these uses.

An Herbicide Residue Problem

In his first example, Ken discussed how drone mapping helped a grower diagnose a problem with herbicide carry-over in a garlic field.

“At first we thought the difference in the field was due to salinity or possibly due to an irrigation system problem,” said Ken. “But when we studied the images closer with the grower and his chemical company fieldman, we realized that there was a problem due to herbicide residue from the previous crop.”

“The severity of the problem was not as clear from the ground,” said Ken.

“The left side of the field had been farmed the previous year in wheat, the right hand side in alfalfa. Apparently an herbicide that was applied to the alfalfa field the year before carried over enough to suppress the growth of the garlic the following year,” Ken said.

Click to explore the interactive map of the garlic field

“This story is still unfolding now. The grower and field man are investigating now which herbicide might still have enough residue to suppress this year’s garlic crop. We are currently working on a recovery program to begin to help break down the herbicide residue and help the garlic plants recover from the stunting that we saw in the roots when ground-truthing the field,” said Ken.

A Successful Trial at an Almond Orchard

Ken also uses drone imagery to help demonstrate the success of trials of FB Sciences products, as in the following example featuring an almond orchard.

“The grower had been applying one of our products for two years. It’s a 15,000 acre farm, but we’re only on 40 acres, so he wasn’t really giving us the time of day, and I had pretty much given up on this trial. But one day he was looking at Google maps, to see where to put a moisture probe. It’s a young orchard, 4–5 years old, and Google had taken this photo a year ago. It was very clear to see that a year later, the half that had our product was greener and healthier. But I said hey, this is Google maps, it’s low-res, it’s a year old, let’s go in and really document.”

Google map image of the field. The FB Sciences product is on the right hand side of the center field.

“So Greg did the NDVI map of just the dividing line. Half has the FB Sciences product and half doesn’t, so what we’re zooming in on is tree-to-tree uniformity. During our meeting with the grower we were able to show him that the product was helping the trees to deal with the salt stress from strips of salt that go through the field. On the untreated side you could see that the trees were varying, but on the treated side, you could see that practically every tree in the treated row was the same size, same health, and that was part of what convinced him to adopt the product across the whole ranch.”

Click to explore the interactive map

“The product is called Transit Evo. It enhances the uptake of NPK and all other nutrients including Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Zn, Cu and Boron. It has been consistently shown through research to enhance rooting. The research shows that by doing this, it helps crops deal better with salinity, moisture and heat stress,” said Ken.

Big ROI for the Grower and the Vendor

By helping the grower decide to use the product across the whole ranch, the drone map contributed significant ROI for both the grower and FB Sciences.

Transit Evo helps young trees become productive faster, which means the grower gets to recoup costs of planting sooner. “When we plant these young trees, they’re tiny little nursery trees. It takes 3 years to get your first crop and usually it’s a small crop. The Transit Evo product brings the trees into production faster, causing them to grow faster, be established faster and be more uniform. By the fourth year, we could have the same crop that most people would be having after 5 years, meaning that we can cut a whole year off of the production cycle.”

But the impact on mature trees is perhaps even more impressive. “On average — as shown in 11 different studies — our yield increase was about 220 lbs per acres from that one product applied 3 times per year,” said Ken. “That’s about $450–500 extra revenue per acre for something that costs about $90-$120 per acre per year, so it’s about a 5 to 1 return on investment for the grower. He will get a net increase in yield of $300–400 per acre at today’s prices, which are pretty low.”

Applied over the whole 15,000 acre farm, that comes out to an expected increase in revenue of $5-$6 million for the grower. The revenue for FB Sciences isn’t trivial either; the sale amounts to $400,000 — $600,000.

“The drone flight costs two orders of magnitude less, and easily pays for itself,” said Ken.

Although the cost of the drone flight may be negligible, drone mapping is already having a big impact on FB Sciences’ bottom line.

“We have increased the success rate of our demo trials by 100 percent thanks to drone mapping. We have increased our sales this year already by about 20 percent,” said Ken. [click to tweet]

Where to Learn More

Want to learn more about how you can use drone mapping on your farm? Check out our help center to learn more about the practices and tools mentioned in the case study, including:

Try DroneDeploy for Agriculture

You won’t believe how easy it is to get started with DroneDeploy. Sign up for your free trial or learn about our Seasonal Ag Package (available for signup until June 30, 2016), which includes all of the ag-specific mapping capabilities you need, as well as training and support to help you make the most of it.



DroneDeploy is the leading cloud software platform for commercial drones. Learn more at www.dronedeploy.com

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