Hawks flying through a nearly cloudless blue sky and yellow cabbage butterflies flitting over a tomato field in the San Joaquin Delta had to share the airspace Friday with an ink black, arms-width flying wing.
Cruising at less than 250 feet over the 80-acre field off Maybeck Road, the aerial drone took a series of surveys — in high-definition color, near-infrared and infrared — to provide an in-depth look of the crop, its developing fruit, soil conditions and more.
The battery-powered, software-piloted drone was operated by FarmSolutions, an agricultural technology company in Ventura County, whose products include on-farm weather stations and automated soil-moisture and irrigation systems. Results of Friday’s survey, as well as a demonstration of the aerial drone, will be shared Wednesday in Stockton.
Nick Mussi, who agreed to have his tomato field serve as the test subject, said the crop was about a month from harvest.
“This is our first year farming this ranch, so I wanted to see the different soil types and if we have any problem spots,” he said.
An overhead view is the best way to survey a field, especially for taller crops such as corn or tree nuts and fruit. He told of another farmer who, using a drone, spotted a dry patch in the middle of his corn field and was able to correct the irrigation system.
“You’re never going to see it unless you’re flying over it,” Mussi said.
Greg Dohrmann, principal of Dohrmann Insurance Agency in Stockton and sponsor of Wednesday’s presentation, said the aim is to introduce the latest in drone technology to area farmers.
Grower Nick Mussi watches a Farm Solutions drone survey his tomato field on Maybeck and Muller Roads west of Stockton.
A grower may use a relatively inexpensive hobbyist drone to take video of a field, but FarmSolutions equipment and software provide an in-depth analyst with GPS locations.
“It’s capturing a lot more data, … giving the grower a better ability to really get down to the nitty-gritty as to what’s wrong with their crop, what may be wrong, water use and all those things that at the end of the day is going to allow them to produce a better crop, better yields and save water,” Dohrmann said.
Katharine Rosser, FarmSolutions sales engineer, said the company’s technology goes well beyond a simple visual survey.
“Really, what our true value is, is the data analysis after the fact,” she said.That can allow farmers to zoom in on plant stress, whether caused by pest, disease or nutritional deficit. “Saving time, money and resources are the things that can come from it,” Rosser said.