“Images are taken throughout the growing year, from about a month after planting until full maturity,” says Welch. “Growers can choose between having their fields' images taken from a plane or from a satellite. They receive about twice as many images during the growing season for the same money from the satellite. However, images taken from a plane have a better resolution, providing more detail. And we have more control over when the plane takes its images.”

That timing can be important in a year with cloudy weather. Welch explains that images need to be taken on a clear day, preferably between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. The satellite is overhead Indiana during those time spans about every fifth day. A plane, on the other hand, can be sent up any day.

During June 2009, there were only four days when the sky was clear enough over central Indiana to take images, says Welch, and two of these days were early in the month when the crop was too small. So in such a year with lots of cloud cover, the plane service works out better, says Welch. In the end, all growers receive the number of images promised. AgSure's growers pay $3/acre for the service.

For that price it provides the images and an agronomist to help growers understand them. AgSure sends Emens the images electronically to download onto his computer. He transfers the images to a handheld computer with GPS that he then takes to the field to walk problem areas where weeds, drainage and other problems showed up.

“You have to walk to identify the problems,” says Emens. For example, the imagery identified a weed patch in one of his cornfields. “With the handheld I was able to walk to it and see that it was a spot the sprayer had missed. I was able to take care of it with a hand sprayer. Without the handheld, I don't know if I could have found the spot. You get out 20 rows or so in standing corn and you can lose your orientation,” says Emens.

Welch says the handheld computer with software and GPS costs around $750. Some growers, such as Emens, own their handheld computers and walk their own fields. Most, says Welch, choose to have an AgSure agronomist walk the fields to check out problem areas. While AgSure agronomists will review maps with farmers as part of the fee, there is an additional charge if they are asked to walk the fields.