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Imagery Program at Southern States

Taking a new look at aerial imagery for farm management

The Southern States imagery program offers growers a unique way to help manage their farms. Photos taken from above give a whole new perspective on how fields perform and what actions farmers should take when a problem arises.

With the guidance of David Swain, Manager of Precision Ag Technologies at Southern States, we'll explore the imagery program to learn how it works, what it can provide, and how it can change the way you farm.

Aerial Imagery

In 2014, Southern States has focused primarily on expanding its airplane aerial imagery program. Airplanes with cameras fly over the fields, capturing images at 1 meter, one-half meter, or one-quarter meter resolution. The quality surpasses that of satellite imagery, and compared with UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle), airplane imagery covers an entire field in an image.

By examining aerial images, growers can visually identify problems. Using a handheld GPS device, they can then visit the specific point in their field to determine the issue.

Agronomists use the images as well. "The program gives our salesmen a guide so that they are more thorough, purposeful and efficient in their analysis," Swain explains.

The downside to aerial imagery is turnaround time. It can take up to 10 days to wait for decent weather, take the shots and process the pictures. Regardless, the Southern States aerial imagery program in 2014 has shown much promise in helping improve farm production.

2014 Pilot Program

Southern States worked its imagery program over 4,000 acres this spring and summer to determine how aerial photographs can benefit a farm. The program provides a few different perspectives to growers:

  • Aerial View: Also known as the red, green, blue image, the aerial view is the standard image of the land from the airplane.
  • Near Infrared: This image shows the heat and reflectiveness of the land. Heat spots typically indicate more vegetation, but more heat could also mean more weed pressure.
  • Multi-spectral: A combination of aerial and near infrared, this image shows the field';s vegetative vigor, or health of the crop.

The images taken have helped confirm theories about how to best manage particular areas of fields, such as low-performing end rows. "Aerial imagery has given us the ability to see the impact of end rows on production," Swain says. "We can manage and make better decisions based on this knowledge."

Timing is Everything

The 2014 pilot program used a three-shot timing that proved to work well. The planes took aerial photos at three points during the crops' growing cycle:

  • Immediately after emergence.
  • In the early growth stage, between three and five weeks after emergence.
  • Around three weeks before flowering, depending on the crop.

The images at these stages allowed growers to see and identify problems early so they could take action effectively. "It allowed us to take a much more proactive approach to handling problems," Swain explains.

Of course, depending on the crop and situation, more or fewer images in a particular program might be needed.

Would it Work for Me?

For customers interested in aerial images, Southern States can work with you to get a plane flying overhead soon. The pilots work with a vendor-equipped system with specific Southern States software that transmits the images directly to the system.

Large and small farms alike can benefit from this technology. In addition, Southern States will work with farms in remote locations, to set up an aerial program for them as well.

"The program provides an opportunity for us to do a better job for our customers to ensure their business is sustainable," Swain says. For more information on the aerial program, please contact your local Southern States professional. Also see our article on conventional ground-based crop scouting.

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