A Minnesota-based tech company has three new products that can help identify field conditions from above.
Sentera, Inc. works closely with agronomists to provide fixed-wing drones, imaging equipment, and software to quickly obtain information from a bird’s-eye view to an agronomist and/or or a farmer.
Their most recent offerings include weed identification, stand counts, and acorn counts via drone imagery.
“We are building custom sensors, drones and analytics to do exactly the kind of plant and field analysis we want to do,” said Andrew Muehlfeld, director of Sentera or Solutions Engineering.
In 2017, Sentera patented its first product, FieldAgent, which helps agronomists gather information from across the farm.
They have now patented Spot Scout, which can downsample fields with one or two measurements per acre. The multi-step process uses drone imagery to understand crop health and performance. With the development of Spot Scout, agronomists and farmers have access to stand count, crop health, acorn count, tree location, canopy cover, yield estimation , precision weed mapping, durability and custom analysis, all using a drone imaging system.
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Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, Sentera has customers in 74 countries, but works primarily in the U.S. Corn Belt. The company has 100 full-time employees and 50 additional employees during the growing season.
“Our customers are sometimes farmers, but a lot of them are retail agronomists,” Muehlfeld said. “Nobody else does all the steps, from building the sensor, to processing the imagery, to delivering it to an agronomist and allowing the agronomist to share it with their growers.”
Sentera’s PHX RTK, Double 4K – Analytics payload offers two types of digital images. These include NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) and NDRE (Normalized Difference Red Edge) images.
So in both cases, the images will not look like standard photographs but rather color-coded digital maps.
For the acorn counting program, Sentera engineers programmed AI technology to learn what an acorn looks like and remove them from the image one by one. The information is then quickly counted and reported.
Obtaining the acorn count can provide a lot of information – a low acorn count can indicate where tiling is needed, compaction has occurred, or can show the effects of weather or insect damage. A high number of acorns can reassure a farmer and help in estimating yield.
In terms of complexity, Muehlfeld suggested that stand counting is the easiest to do, panicle counting is more complex, and weed identification is the most difficult of the three digital photo applications.
“The intention is to allow growers to make herbicide selections, so if you know what types of weeds are in your fields, that will give you the ability to choose which herbicides to use,” he said. declared.
While many people use quadcopter drones, Sentera manufactures and offers the PHX fixed-wing drone. Their “plane” weighs 4.2 pounds, has a wingspan of 4.5 feet, and is only 2.5 feet long. It can cruise at 35 miles per hour with a maximum operating altitude of 18,000 feet above sea level.
Muehlfeld pointed out that drones are only allowed to fly up to 400 feet and are regulated by the FAA. A Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate is required to fly drones legally.
In some cases, an agronomist with a drone license will fly a drone to take images, or they may hire a qualified pilot.
The PHX, Muehlfeld said, can explore 1,500 acres of non-contiguous fields in a day versus about 500 acres for a quadcopter, according to Sentera research.
“The advantage of the fixed wing is that you can cover larger fields faster,” he said. “People who provide professional drone data reconnaissance services usually purchase an aircraft to quickly cover large fields. If you’re just spotting a few fields here and there, you could buy a small quadcopter.
High quality images are easily sent digitally as they are around 5MB each.
“These images can be imported into our software,” Muehlfeld said. “Then these images could be shared with other people in your business. You can ‘dig into’ and look at these images for yourself.