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Drones for field ops

The optimisation of mechanical operations, the use of sensors and optimal driving patterns are central components of the future cultivation of plants. A presentation at the Plant Congress gave the low-down on high-tech plant production.

[Translate to English:] Droner kan blive fremtiden for planteavlere. De vil – udstyret med specielle kameraer – være i stand til at overvåge udbredelsen af ukrudt langt bedre end det menneskelige øje. Foto: Jens Erik Jensen, Videncentret for Landbrug, Planteproduktion.

Future plant cultivation may well happen with the help of drones that – hovering over the fields with built-in cameras – will be able to monitor emerging weeds and will be able to notify the farmer of the weed composition and thus provide important information on how to control it.

This might sound like the manuscript for a Hollywood film based in a distant future, but these are some of the concepts that scientists, both nationally and internationally, have on the drawing board.

Ole Green is chief of strategic development at farm machinery manufacturer Kongskilde Industries and gave the presentation “High-tech plant production” in connection with the Plant Congress 2013. His daily work involves closely interfacing with the research environment at AU Foulum, which he was once part of, and he has significant insight into the thoughts and ideas that might soon become reality for Danish plant growers.

- Flying drones, equipped with heat-sensitive cameras in addition to standard ones can be used to detect wild animals in front of harvesters or map out plant stresses in the field far earlier and much faster than the human eye. If more than one camera is used, depth perception becomes possible. This means you can quantify sizes and distances, points out Ole Green.

The past hurts
Future technological aids is one side of the coin, the other carries the sins of the past, requiring fresh thinking and knowledge in order to secure the growth potential of the plants.

Many years of driving heavy agricultural machines on the fields has in many places resulted in problems with soil compaction.

- Research from England and Sweden has shown that up to 70% of the energy used in tillage is a direct consequence of soil compaction, says Ole Green.

He points out that auto-steering, geographic information systems and wireless data transfer systems have been put into use in plant cultivation over the last few years. They lay the seeds for more intelligent systems that can counter the compaction, or at least optimise driving in the fields.

A newly developed computer program from Aarhus University can thus calculate the optimal driving pattern in the field as a function of the dimensions and maneuverability of the machinery used, the working width and shape of the field. In this way, the labour input and machines idling can be minimised.

- Results have shown that optimal driving patterns reduce the repeat passages by up to 50 percent and running time and associated costs by up to 18 percent, says Ole Green and continues:

- In relation to optimised driving and soil compaction, other results have shown that the risk of pressure damage can be reduced by up to 61 percent in the application of animal manure when the slurry wagon's varying weight and soil resistance are balanced against each other.

Further information: Chief of strategic development at Kongskilde Industries Inc., Ole Green (Former senior scientist at Aarhus University), telephone +45 5185 4406, email: Ole@webstech.dk