Case Study: Crop Consultant Improves Client’s Strawberry Season

Dylon McClure is a drone specialist working for Nutrien, the world's largest supplier of crop inputs, services, and solutions. He didn’t start with drones though. His passion for helping local growers with technology had him looking into satellite imagery. With a typical resolution of 5 meters, it provided more information than what past generations of growers had, but Dylon saw room for improvement.

He researched ways to improve the data they had and decided to try the DroneDeploy solution. Here was a solution that allowed him to run out to the local Best Buy, spend a few hundred dollars on an entry-level drone, and start gathering data the very same day. Dylon was ready and soon gained permission to run a pilot program within the local Nutrien office at which he worked. The goal? Working with a Certified Crop Advisor (CCA), they wanted to increase profits and customer loyalty in the first year.

FINDING THE RIGHT PLATFORM

The pilot program with the entry-level drone was initially deployed with a local strawberry grower. Near the start of the project, limitations with this solution quickly became apparent to Dylon. While DroneDeploy was happy to work with him, they ultimately realized they couldn’t supply what he needed, and referred him to SlantRange for a solution that fit his needs. With proper due diligence, Dylon checked out other providers of high-end agricultural remote-sensing solutions and ultimately decided to move forward with SlantRange. He preferred our software and felt our team was a better fit to his needs.

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Nutrien’s primary goal throughout the program was to do good for their growers. The primary work Dylon and his partner did was evaluating the crop for nutrient solutions. Their goal was to address issues with the crop as soon as possible and help the grower realize the best yield possible. They wanted to take precision agriculture to the next level for their client.

Throughout the year, Dylon flew the fields every month, following up with stress reports as requested by the grower. At the outset of the season, correlating data to action wasn’t easy. While the data was clear and detailed, interpreting it was left to them. Indications of plant stress can be due to over fertilization in one crop and pest damage in another. Ground truthing to confirm the data was an important part of the process, especially in the beginning.

PUTTING IT TO WORK

As the season continued, it became easier to correlate various readings with possible issues. One of the largest advantages of the drone-based solution over satellite imagery became obvious early on, the resolution. With satellite imagery, every pixel in the final picture represented 5 meters x 5 meters of the grower’s field. The drone could resolve images at 2 centimeters x 2 centimeters! Individual leaves on plants became visible using the drone solution.

The other major advantage was speed. Dylon had results for the grower right at the side of the field in minutes after the flight was done thanks to local processing. There was no need for a high-speed internet connection or heading to town to process the data and coming back out for a follow-up appointment. The grower was impressed with getting results so quickly after seeing other solutions take hours to process images into usable maps.

“Having this new technology available to our growers brings them closer to us than ever before.”

The speed and accuracy went a long way towards identifying issues and finding a solution for the grower immediately. Ground truthing was done with a high level of accuracy on location, allowing the CCA Dylon worked with to maximize the usefulness of his time.

FINDING TWO-SPOTTED SPIDER MITES

In one instance, a map showed a high degree of plant stress in a concentrated region of a field. Ground truth revealed two-spotted spider mites hiding under the leaves and actions were taken to prevent the mites from turning into an infestation. In a more extreme example, they identified a pest issue while doing fertilizer consultation. They brought it to the grower's attention and discovered a PCA hadn’t been doing their job to the level advertised, and they did it in time for that PCA to turn around and regain control of the situation.

two-spotted spider mite data-1

The stress on the lower part of the map (red and orange) shows the two-spotted spider mites infiltrating the field. 

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An example of a two-spotted spider mite which are very difficult to see with the naked eye.

LOCATING IRRIGATION ISSUES 

In Dylon's region, strawberry growers are very particular about their irrigation practices. So much so, he had been warned not to bring up over or under watering without air-tight proof. The SlantRange solution provided a grower that proof and his team suggested cutting back on irrigation. After the grower cut back on irrigation, they followed up with SlantRange data that showed it improved chlorophyll content 14% in less than 2 weeks. This was faster and more accurate than any other method they had available for this task.

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As seen here, the yellow areas on the map show healthier plants. After cutting back on water, the grower saw an increase in healthy plants.

THE PILOT PROGRAM IS A SUCCESS

By the end of the season, Dylon helped increase the CCA’s profits and the entire team counted the season, and the pilot program, a success. The growers they worked with had improved yields, the branch brought in more profit than it would have without the drone, and their lessons learned have set them up to be even more successful next year. He looks forward to continuing his relationship with SlantRange, pushing the boundaries of the current technology, and helping identify useful new technologies. Dylon plans to bring the drone solution to more growers and more crops in the coming years, changing the agricultural industry, one flight at a time.


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