Drones in Agriculture

Posted: June 14, 2018

Farmers are using unmanned aerial vehicles to assess plant health.

Jamie Erlenbach and Chris Paulsen use their drones to check the health status of their corn and soybean fields. It’s one of their newer crop scouting technology tools which provides aerial images of their growing crops.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better known as drones, are gaining popularity among farmers and agribusinesses who find value in assessing and rectifying crop problems. About one third of farmers (themselves or through third party provider) are using drones, according to AgWeb/Farm Journal Pulse.

Crop field scanning for health assessment is one of the most valuable uses of drones for farmers. By scanning a crop using both visible and near-infrared (NIR) light, drones can identify which plants reflect different amounts of green light and NIR light. This information can produce multispectral images that track changes in plants and indicate their health. Upon seeing these images, a farmer can remedy the problem more precisely.

Paulsen and Erlenbach use DJI drone devices for monitoring farm fields. They are licensed pilots who use the images and data for their farms and for other farmers.

Paulsen, an Agri-Gold dealer from Clare, flies his drone over his customers’ fields and shares crop information with them. “My main goal is to provide value to my farm customers.”

33% of farmers are using drones today.

Erlenbach of Waterman has started his own company, Precision UAV. “It’s the next step in farm technology,” said Erlenbach, “and it helps to be vertically integrated by having my own business.”

Erlenbach sees drones as a growing trend to “identify specific diseases from aerial images.” He says drones provide efficiency for farms and maximize profits. “Instead of walking miles and miles within a field, I can see problems from above.”

As licensed drone pilots, the farmers follow safety guidelines when flying their unmanned aircraft. They must fly below 400 feet and keep the device within visual line of sight. They cannot fly within five miles of an airport without first contacting airport authorities.

With refinements in drone technology, including producing 3-D maps, the drone sector in agriculture is taking off. In addition to monitoring crops, drones are being used for soil analysis, surveying, planting, crop spraying, irrigation, and livestock monitoring using thermal images. And some farmers just appreciate a good aerial photograph of their farmstead!

Licensed pilot Jamie Erlenbach flies his professional drone device over his corn field in rural Waterman. Erlenbach appreciates seeing aerial plant images which may show problems developing in his crops so he can rectify them. Erlenbach also owns Precision UAV and provides drone services for other farmers.


Chris Paulsen, Clare farmer, finds value in sharing crop information with his seed customers by providing them with aerial images of their farm fields. Paulsen obtained a 107 license last year and uses his DJI drone regularly during the growing season for corn and soybeans as a crop scouting device.