Mini-drone fitted with sensor to aid crop scouting

Farmers know the value of early field scouting: finding stressed plants early can allow for quick intervention and save yields.

The real question often comes down to a matter of cost efficiency: how much to pay up front in the hopes that the investment will pay off later?

Crop scouting may have become more affordable with the an-nouncement from a major drone developer that farmers can now get TrueNDVI on a small, existing drone.

Sentera’s Mavic Pro has been around for a few years, but it now comes fitted with an NDVI sensor. As well, farmers who already own one can have their drone retrofitted to add the sensor.

NDVI, or normalized difference vegetation index, describes the health and density of vegetation through remote sensing.

“NDVI data helps growers quickly identify stressed areas and allows them to focus their attention and input on areas that need it,” Kris Poulson, vice-president of agriculture for Sentera, said in an email.

“If an area of a field is drowned out and not growing, this will be reflected in the NDVI data.”

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NDVI has been available on other drones, but the Mavic is about 1/16 inch the size of most.

Sentera’s TrueNDVI system upgrade involves installing a sensor onto the frame. The original three-axis gimbal camera remains and continues to operate as before.

With the NDVI sensor, the drone captures RGB (visual band images, NIR (near-infrared images) and NDVI data.

The information is added to Sentera’s AgVault Pro software, where the information can be analyzed and used to identify problem areas in fields where action is needed.

The AgVault Pro includes a mobile flight app that helps manage overlap and sidelap for proper imagery.

When folded up, The Mavic Pro measures 83 x 83 millimetres (3.25 inches) by 198 mm (7.8 inches). When its arms are extended for flight, it measures 335 mm (13 inches). It has a flight time of 27 minutes.

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Poulson said most farmers who have not operated a drone before should be able to get it up and running from the box to the air in about 30 minutes.

The Mavic Pro with the NDVI sensor upgrade is expected to be available in Canada in mid-March.

It costs about US$3,600 to buy the drone with the sensor installed or about US$2,650 to retrofit an existing Mavic drone.

Poulson said people can ship their drones to Sentera’s location in Minneapolis, Minnesota, or they can work through a local dealer. The upgrade takes a few days, he said.

“Growers of corn and soybeans are using Sentera’s NDVI solutions today to help them assess their crops’ health and make input decisions,” said Poulson.

Terry Fries is a freelance writer based in Summerland, B.C.

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