Cape’s Drones Aid Agricultural Pest Control and Management - In Real Time!

 Tractor spraying pesticides on soybean field 

Tractor spraying pesticides on soybean field 

By: Walt Duflock

Pest damage is one of the most significant problems facing farmers.  It is estimated that as much as 35% of yield loss is due to pre-harvest pest activity.  Globally, farmers spend over $40 billion per year on pesticides - and the number in the US is almost 25% of that number at $9.2 billion.  Why are farmers buying so much pesticide? They are trying to avoid an estimated total of $200 billion in crop loss annually caused by pests.   

There are two approaches to pest control; traditional pest control and integrated pest management (PMI).  Traditional pest control involves routine application of pesticides and integrated pest management (IPM) focuses on pest prevention and limited pesticide use.  Many of the specialty crops that are especially susceptible to pest damage are grown in California. California’s University of California (UC) system includes the Agriculture and Natural Resources Department, which manages the UC Integrated Pest Management program.  The main objective of the IPM is to collect best practices for each crop and work with industries and product suppliers to develop them into a set of Pest Management Guidelines (PMG).

The primary users of the Pest Management Guidelines are Pest Control Advisors (PCA).  PCAs are certified experts that help identify pest damage, determine the cause, and recommend a remediation path to fix the problem.  The PCA and the farmer work together to get pest problems identified and remediated in the best way possible to minimize pest damage. Pest problems that are not identified and remediated can go from minor problems to major problems very quickly.  This makes identifying the initial pest outbreak in a timely fashion crucial to farmers and PCAs - it’s arguably the single biggest factor in controlling the amount of pest damage.

This is where pest control drone technology can help. The recent emergence of drones has led to a variety of new solutions for drone pest control management.  In many cases, drones offer a solution that is both more effective and significantly cheaper than any current options.

 

Use of Drones In Agriculture Is Reducing Travel Time and Labor Cost

 Drone surveying field

Drone surveying field

Viewing this from the farmer’s perspective, a large farmer can frequently have hundreds or even thousands of acres of multiple specialty crops which can be located miles apart.  Farmers have multiple options for detecting pests. Farmers, their employees, or their PCA can walk the fields to physically see the damage, or they can review photos or videos of the field.  The photo/video option increases the amount of acreage that can be reviewed but is often done on static images or videos hours or days after the imagery was collected. The farmer is then left paying for more employee time to walk fields or wait for hours or days until the imagery is available for review; the peak of inefficiency.  

There is one related financial challenge - paying someone with the expertise to accurately identify pest damage and develop the best remediation plan requires more than an entry-level position.  In many cases farmers end up paying for windshield time sending experts to drive field to field to view the damage and develop (and in many cases execute) the remediation plan.

 

Look - up in the air!  It’s a bird! It’s a plane!  It’s a Cape drone super hero that helps spot pests in all your fields in real time!  

Drone in Air.jpg

Cape drone software helps farm pest control by allowing farmers to get real-time information in the hands of their employees or PCAs without requiring all that high-priced windshield time.  Instead, drones are stationed in or near the fields and maintained locally. The time required for maintenance can be spent by entry-level employees, allowing higher-value experts do more analysis and less driving.  

Fly one now!

How does the farmer’s operation work with the Cape’s drone software solution in place?

Let’s go back to the farmer with hundreds of acres across many miles, all of which have crops in them at the same time and require pest detection. Assume that the farmer has 8 fields and 500 acres of row crops in 3 locations that are 5, 15, and 25 miles away from the main operation - and of course since farmers don’t get to pick where fields are available for lease; all 3 are in different directions.  This means there is a minimum of 90 miles of driving to get to and from each location. With Cape, farm employees drive the drones to each of the fields and get it set to launch. Then the expert can take over control of the drone remotely from a central location and do whatever is needed to identify the pest damage through the drone. A high-level view from several hundred feet above allows them to see the overall field and where problem areas may be starting to occur.  Lowering the drone and increasing the zoom provides them with up close images of the field. Depending on the payload, drone, and equipment involved, the zoom can go anywhere from 7x to 180x. The expert effectively controls the drone to lower and zoom into plant level and see where the damage is occurring, all from the comfort of their office with a laptop or desktop computer. Being able to remotely control the drone allows the pest experts to do what they should be doing - looking at images and analyzing pest damage to put together a remediation recommendation - not wasting windshield time.  Now imagine the multiplier effect of being able to have the expert spend multiple hours per day while local farm employees move the drones around from field to field. The expert can go from field to field as soon as the next drone is ready for flight. The expert, the high-priced resource in this equation, can spend more of their day doing high-value work, increasing value for the farmer.

Circling back to the Integrated Pest Management topic, effective use of drone solutions in farming reduces overall pesticide usage by reducing the need for it by detecting pests earlier.  Drone solutions can help farmers identify them earlier, remediate them faster, use less pesticides, and maintain high yields. It’s evident farmers and their PCAs should be looking to drone solutions as one potential piece in their overall IPM strategy.  

Cape provides a complete white-glove solution that includes all equipment, set-up and testing in your fields.  A Cape professional makes sure that you are getting full value from your Cape solution the day the product is installed.  If you are a farmer looking for a more efficient way to detect pests or a PCA looking for a new way to help your customers or have questions, learn more at www.cape.com or contact the Cape team directly at fly@cape.com   Let’s begin the conversation of how Cape can help you detect pests better and faster.  

Ag-TechYumi Nakamura