Paul recalls a farmer he worked with who identified that a section on his irrigation system wasn’t working by viewing free Google Earth satellite imagery. But the images were a year old.

“He could see from last year that there was an issue and he applied it to this year’s crop. If you want to see what’s happening this year, you need imagery that’s taken tomorrow,” says Paul. “Let’s say for example you’ve got nutrient issues, so in part of the field you’ve got a yellow patch. So we can get in there and we can put down more nitrogen. Then you come back with the UAV two weeks later, take the imagery again, and see if there was a result from that prescription. That’s where the real benefit from UAV systems comes in.”

UAVs can obtain a vast array of aerial data by flying over farm fields, and the type of data they collect depends on the camera system the UAV is carrying. Most UAVs carry consumer grade cameras that collect high-resolution still images and video. The user then views the images or footage once the UAV surveys a field to identify abnormal spots that may need to be visited for problems related to nutrients, pests, weeds, moisture or other issues. The benefit lies in being able to scout your fields faster by quickly identifying the problem spots rather than walking a whole field on foot.

GPS-referenced imagery is a more advanced feature that takes the guesswork out of identifying where a problem spot is located in a field. Some of the most advanced camera systems are able to provide thermal and multispectral sensing, which allows the UAV to scan a field and identify abnormalities that can’t be seen by the naked eye or by viewing a basic aerial image.