Field scouting is an essential part of any agronomy program, that involves traveling through a crop field, making observations, and taking notes. While it will be a long time before any technology can replace boots on the ground, modern technologies have significantly altered the resource demands for a legitimate scouting program. GPS technology allows growers to make geotagged notes and photos in their fields and various scouting apps make it easy to record the crucial geographically information along with their scouting notes. Remote sensing enables growers to monitor conditions in their fields from their office. Imagery, in particular, lets growers see their fields without actually stepping foot in them. While in-field scouting is still very much required for growers and agronomists, imagery is significantly reducing the time and effort necessary to adequately scout fields.
Field scouting is essential for each stage of the growing season. Pre-plant scouting can provide a grower with a better understanding of moisture and soil conditions in their fields. Pre-plant scouting also helps growers identify and quantify weed populations, including what species of weeds are growing. When it's time for planting, scouting helps growers decide what seed depth or seed rate they should plant at. When planting is complete, scouting can help growers identify planter skips and damaged seeds, early indications of fertility, irrigation, pest, and disease issues. When crops emerge and become established and rooted, continued scouting can help inform nutrient and chemical application decisions. Field scouting is often not a one and done activity. Fields need to be scouted multiple times throughout a season to identify yield-robbing issues and to provide information that will guide management decisions. Without frequent scouting, growers are operating with a blindfold on.
GPS and scouting apps
The arrival of GPS technology played a big part in the advancement of crop scouting practices. Before GPS technology and mobile scouting programs appeared, crop scouting relied on growers estimating where they have scouted in their fields. With GPS, growers and agronomists can track their exact steps. With this geospatial data, they can make geotagged notes, take geotagged photo's and record the precise locations of issues. Many scouting apps now allow growers to cross-compare their notes with previous years or different areas of the fields, and send and receive information from their equipment. Most scouting apps use some form of aerial imagery as a background image which helps users visualize where they have scouted identified issues. Although TerrAvion imagery is integrated with many agricultural software programs, we have our own mobile app that provides many helpful scouting features. Click here for more information on the TerrAvion mobile app.
Imagery guided scouting
GPS technology and aerial imagery changed the way growers managed their scouting data, but a more significant change happened when growers started using aerial imagery to determine where to scout. In the past, random scouting was the standard method for scouting. Random scouting involves randomly picking areas to scout and projecting the results from the sample area across a larger area of the field. But random scouting is a very inefficient method for scouting as it requires a lot of time and some luck in discovering issues. Imagine a grower entering into his field to scout, observes a very healthy portion of his field and records his findings, but ten rows in another direction is the start of a severe pest issue. The issue, left undetected, will now be left alone to intensify and spread.
Now, although not capable of identifying the exact cause of an issue from the data, aerial imagery guided scouting gives growers an idea of where their fields are struggling, where they are thriving, and what areas require their attention via an in-field inspection. Various map layers such as thermal and NDVI imagery reveals possible yield-robbing issues before they become apparent to the naked eye. This type of imagery enables growers to identify and address issues before they have any lasting impact on yield. The type and quality of image data used for imagery guided scouting will determine the accuracy of scouting efforts. For instance, with expensive drone imagery that is delivered once per season, imagery will only help a grower for a single scouting event. Considering most growers and agronomists scout their fields every week or every other week, a single image would provide limited value as a scouting tool. On the other hand, satellite imagery is generally delivered weekly but has significant limitations as a crop health monitoring tool in that it is low-resolution imagery. Leaning too heavily on satellite imagery as a tool to direct your scouting efforts can lead to many missed issue detections which in turn would lead to loss of profit. Aerial imagery captured by crewed aircraft, such as that provided by TerrAvion, gives growers the best of both worlds. TerrAvion provides high-resolution imagery, 10-17 cm/pixel, with weekly deliveries. The average image turnover time for TerrAvion, from the time the image was captured to the time it is delivered to your account, is 11.2 hours. With TerrAvion, growers have data capable of showing crop health down to the plant level, delivered next day with weekly deliveries. TerrAvion customers get all of this for a low price comparable to that of satellite imagery. All of these factors make imagery captured from crewed aircraft the ultimate tool for imagery guided scouting.
Modern scouting guided by imagery data and GPS technology has made traditional random scouting a thing of the past. Growers are now spending a fraction of the time scouting their fields while delivering far more accurate results. Growers can then take their imagery data, now supported with in-field scouting notes, to guide further management decisions throughout the season. Using imagery to guide all parts of your operations can help you increase your input efficiency and your profits. For more information on TerrAvion service offerings for 2019, click here.
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