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Variable aerials

Agriculture.com Staff 12/15/2010 @ 10:03am

By John Dietz

Approximately 30 aircraft employed by 16 companies both in the U.S. and Canada are enabling growers to fine-tune in-season crop treatments.

The common factor is a specialized, high-resolution, aerial camera system built by GeoVantage, a Massachusetts company with roots in Colorado and worldwide operations for agricultural, forestry, and other services. Most of the 80 camera systems serve the corn and bean industry in the Upper Midwest. They also are being used south to Texas and along the West Coast.

Four Views From One Field

GeoVantage cameras produce four images with each photo. Each field is captured in natural color, false-color infrared (FCIR), normalized difference vegetative index (NDVI), and a raw digital image known as 4-Band GeoTiff or GeoJpeg.

The photos are georeferenced with an accuracy down to 1-meter resolution and usually are available for use within three days of the flyover. GeoVantage trains and pays the local aircraft operators.

The photos show much finer detail than any satellite images, and they’re more timely, according to Nick Morrow of GeoVantage. Since a reorganization and system upgrade in late 2007, Morrow says the company has enjoyed about 25% annual growth in ag-related sales.

In western Canada, the Agri-Trend Group of Companies brands its service as Real-Shot Imagery. Agri-Trend Geo Solutions president Warren Bills of Calgary, Alberta, estimates that up to one quarter of clients used Real-Shot in 2010 for in-season decisions.

The package integrates aerial photography, professional ground-truthing, and development of a prescription zone map. Aircraft with the GeoVantage camera are based at airports in Lethbridge, Alberta; Yorkton, Saskatchewan; and Steinbach, Manitoba. The images are processed by GeoVantage.

Use Cuts Application Costs

Neil Rathgeber, Churchbridge, Saskatchewan, used the service in 2009 and 2010. Rathgeber reduced costs and saved time both years. He also relaxed, letting his sprayer follow an accurate prescription for the application rates rather than guesswork.

“It’s real easy to use, Rathgeber says. “For a few years I was scared of it, but not now. Actually, I don’t even want to do a regular field anymore. This is way easy. You punch in the field you are going to spray, load the card (with the aerial photo-based prescription) into the sprayer’s GPS, and away you go.”

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