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A 99 percent reduction in herbicide use? One drone made it possible!

Kevin Price shows Adair County farmer Randy Caviness an octocopter drone.
Wouldn’t it be great if drones hovered above us, spying problems on every square inch of ground?

Oh, really?

You don’t think so?

Last week I attended Iowa Farm Bureau’s Economic Summit, which included a presentation by Kevin Price of RoboFlight (a company that specializes in aerial imagery). Price and his colleagues use unmanned aerial systems (i.e. drones) to provide farmers with data they can use to improve their farm practices.

Here’s where it gets good!

Price shared a story of a Kansas farmer who sprayed his entire 120-acre cornfield to fight a Canadian Thistle (weed) infestation. Later, he learned that he could have used data from a drone to target his problem areas and spray less than one acre, saving him money and exposing the land to less herbicide.

I’ll spare you the mental math. The farmer could have reduced his acres sprayed by a whopping 99.167 percent!

Like most of us, farmers aren’t anxious to have drones monitoring every aspect of their lives. But the prospect of using groundbreaking precision technology to protect the land and water makes them downright giddy!

How else would you explain their rapid adoption of GPS and soil sampling technology to reduce fertilizer usage or their willingness to spend millions of their own dollars on science and technology-based practices that help reduce runoff?

Yes, there are important air traffic and security concerns to address before farmers can begin utilizing this powerful aerial technology on a large scale, but for a couple hours last week they allowed themselves dream of the future possibilities.

Dr. Norman Borlaug (father of the innovative plant technology that sparked the Green Revolution and saved one billion lives) knew that technology belonged in the hands of entrepreneurial farmers who would use it to make improvements.

We’d be well served to quickly iron out the issues surrounding this promising new technology, and (as Dr. Borlaug said in his famous last words) “take it to the farmer.”

By Zach Bader . Zach is Iowa Farm Bureau’s Online Community Manager.