Panbecker says it’s really not enough to just verify what was happening with aerial photography. “A good agronomist or crop advisor turns the information into an actionable activity that leads to greater efficiency.”

He’d like to see aerial imagery become a regular part of crop production. “I think photos in June to detect plant variation that point out sidedressing needs, photos in July for fungicide and insecticide issues, and photos in late August to help map yield variability would be a very valuable service,” Panbecker says.

Aerial images alerted Austin Allred, a sophomore at Auburn University with seven crop seasons already under his belt, to corn nutrient deficiencies this year. “We saw dark green, middle range green and lighter green spots on the photo,” says Allred, who farms 1,400 acres near Selma, Ala. “When the Selma CPS pulled tissue samples in the lighter colored areas, they didn’t find any nitrogen deficiencies, but they did find magnesium and potash deficiencies. The tissue samples from those areas correlated with yield monitor data, too, so we know the aerial photos are telling us something.”

Brad Smith will pay closer attention to those nutrients as he soil samples now,” says the Crop Production Services branch manager in Selma. “This is my first time using aerial imagery, and I’m just starting to see how valuable it can be. It gives us a target to look at on the ground, rather than just walking through the field.”

Smith says the photos also showed drainage issues on a number of farms, and planter skips on others. “The imagery helps you identify the weak spots in a field,” Smith says.