Aerial imagery costs are half what they were 20 years ago, says tech veteran Terry Pan Becker, manager of Midwest Agronomic Professional Services in Ft. Dodge, Iowa. “Today, you can get software for a few hundred dollars, or some is free, and you can access the imagery with PCs at a1-meter resolution.”

Panbecker also says cameras measure light sources much better for improved tonal and color balance—very important in distinguishing crop differences across a field.

“Now we have the ability to locally geo-rectify several images to look like one photo, and agronomists and crop advisors can get images to the client on an iPad within 3 to 5 days that detect small differences in such things as plant vigor and plant health,” Panbecker explains.

Aerial photos can indicate everything from soil types to hybrids’ drought resistance to different soil-fill depths on reclaimed coal-mined land.

Seek local experts

“Growers can come to us directly for their imagery, but our suggestion is to go to their crop advisor, agronomist or co-op,” says Nate Taylor of GeoVantage, a major supplier of imagery across the Corn Belt. “You need someone strong in agronomy to take our imagery and data and turn it into a recommendation.”

Taylor has seen a dramatic increase in use of remote sensing for scouting and other management in the past 3 years and sees even more adoption in the future. “Before, you had to walk across the field,” he says. “But now local crop advisors can get fast delivery of high quality images to save time and be more accurate. With more consolidation and larger farms, managers are asking how they can leverage technology for greater efficiency,” Taylor says.