Drone-flying app means farmers can check crops without walking the fields
PUBLISHED: 15:05 06 December 2019 | UPDATED: 15:17 06 December 2019
A mobile app which harnesses drone technology to save farmers the time-consuming job of crop-walking has been demonstrated in Norfolk ahead of its commercial launch.
Skippy Scout is a crop-monitoring system which captures images of emerging plants and analyses them using artificial intelligence (AI) to offer farmers and agronomists vital insights to effectively target nutrients or pesticides - rather than having to walk around the field themselves.
The phone-based app uses GPS and mapping software to fly a drone to selected points in a field. Hi-resolution images are taken which are interpreted by the app to count individual plants, identify weeds and provide an accurate measurement of green area index (GAI). The quality of image is also accurate enough to capture insect damage on a single leaf.
After spending much of 2019 trialling the software with more than 200 farmers and agronomists across the country, the upgraded version is due to be commercially launched in March 2020.
And it was demonstrated this week at a farm in Letton, between Dereham and Watton, which is the training base for Skippy Scout developer DroneAG.
Jack Wrangham, co-founder of the Northumberland-based firm, said the system works with affordable off-the-shelf drones and could collect crop information five times faster than traditional crop walking - while delivering much more detailed information.
"Rather than looking at how much data we can collect, our primary focus is saving farmers time," he said. "We have taken the concept of crop-walking and made it much faster.
"Everyone knows we need to feed more people and we need to increase yields, but what is key for us is that we also need to keep farmers farming. We need to keep farming sustainable and profitable, especially as we start to lose subsidies, and we need to do that with fewer resources as we lose chemicals and active ingredients.
"Agri-tech is already helping in many areas, but what we have found over the last three or four years is that it generally works on a large scale because the technology is relatively expensive and very time-consuming. We need to lower the cost and get smaller farms and agronomists using technology to make a real difference."
As well as the time-saving benefits to farmers, Mr Wrangham said end customers further down the food chain also valued the traceability behind how farming decision were made relating to their crops.
"As public perception changes and the public wants to know where food comes from and what has been done to it, having this image chain behind it means that data there and much easier to get to than it was before," he said.