By Jane Robinson for AgInnovation Ontario
What started as a move back to the Ontario family farm for Norm Lamothe turned into a big move forward in crop scouting technology for Canadian farmers.
Lamothe left a 10-year career in the aviation industry to return to be the sixth generation on the family farm near Peterborough. At the encouragement of a neighbouring farmer, Lamothe bought his first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone in 2015. He had a small group of area farmers already signed up to have a block of acres viewed by the new technology and help share the investment risk.
“We quickly identified the opportunity for farmers to save money and increase their crop yields by mapping their fields to identify areas of stress,” says Lamothe.
Word spread and Lamothe was soon looking to expand across Ontario when a chance meeting with David MacMillan took his fledgling UAV imagery business to much higher heights. MacMillan was with a mining company called Deveron, looking to expand into the drone business.
The two created Deveron UAS, a new Ontario-based company dedicated to UAV imagery in the agriculture sector across North America. With 15 pilots and their UAVs, the company is providing aerial crop scouting to farmers from Alberta to the Maritimes, and some parts of the U.S.
For the first time, growers can make in-season decisions about their crop by using UAV imaging.
“We can scout 100 acres in 20 minutes, providing more accurate information than just walking the rows because we see the entire field,” says Lamothe. “We measure plant stress using multispectral imaging and are able to see things we just can’t see with the naked eye.”
Information from the UAV images arms on-the-ground agronomists and scouts to zero in on areas of higher plant stress to make recommendations and adjustments on fertility, pest and decision pressure, or even water usage.
The technology lends itself to variable rate fertilizer application, and that’s where Lamothe says customers are seeing the biggest return on investment in corn and wheat.
“We fly a field, take an image and a prescription is written based on the images captured,” he says.
The grower then applies nitrogen to fit just what’s required for various areas of the field. In high value vegetable crops, the return on investment is similar for fertility, as well as detecting pest and disease infestations.
“The technology is proving its worth through increased yield and decreased input costs – because inputs are matched and used optimally to match the stresses in the field,” says Lamothe.
Deveron has recently partnered with The Climate Corp to provide growers with a new option for how and where they store on-farm data generated by UAV imagery.
“Efficiency is going to be a necessity on farms as they get larger and personnel is more difficult to find and retain,” says Lamothe. “UAV technology has a big role to play, providing insights to make decisions that will help us grow more food on less acres.”