Drones in Ag


Pictured above is Desirae Heideman with her DJI Matrices 100 with the smart farming package by Precision Hawk that includes a normal camera and a multispectral camera to look at plant health, weather damage and more. 

Desirae Heideman's grandpa introduced her to flying radio controlled airplanes and helicopters. "I liked flying so much that I did a 4-H project and a science fair project on helicopters," she said.

Drones in Ag 2

Pictured left to right:

Grandma Rosemary, Desirae and Grandpa Earl.

"When I was younger my grandpa and I would always play around with radio controlled airplanes and helicopters," said Desirae.

"We would fly them around for hours! Every time I went to the store I would always want to get another."


That love of aerial technology bled over into her school work when she conducted a science fair project on the velocity of helicopters blades. Shortly after that, Desirae saw an internet video that sparked her interest in drones. Soon she began studying the Federal Aviation Administration website and a resource book entitled Remote Pilot Test Prep. About two months later she was taking the FAA Knowledge Exam to get her drone's pilot license.

On her family's farm in Freeborn County in southeastern Minnesota, Desirae uses those skills to monitor 2,400 acres of corn, soybeans and livestock.

We recently spent a little time with Desirae to learn more about her experience with drones.


PT Tractor Icon What type of drones are there?

Desirae: Drones fall into two main categories, with many uses for either type. It comes down to what you are looking for and your price range.

Fixed wing drones look like a traditional airplane and are used for mapping applications. They tend to be more expensive and take more practice to fly accurately.

The other type is multi-rotor, which is what I have. They are used for hobbies, aerial photography, surveying, agriculture and drone races.

PT Tractor Icon What type of drones do you use?

Desirae: I own quadcopters; which mean the drone has four blades.

Just like any other technology, improvements are made and the old technology goes out of date. From the time I bought my first drone (DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus) to my current drone (DJI Phantom 4) the technology has improved significantly. I bought the Phantom 4 because its features include longer battery life and an obstacle avoidant sensor, which means it stops before crashing into something.

The Phantom 2 had a manual takeoff and land using the controller levers, whereas the

Phantom 4 can manually take off and land using the controls or a smartphone app. The app makes the drone easier to fly and control the drone, see live images and change settings.

Most recently I bought the Matrice 100. I purchased this one for flying over fields to look at plant health. It came with 2 cameras -- a standard RGB camera and a mutispec camera. The mutispec allows me to look in depth at the crop's health. I use the Precision Hawk "smart farming package."

PT Tractor Icon How have you used this technology on the farm?

Desirae: Using drones on our farm we can see how the plant health is on our crops. We can look at the fields and see where we sprayed, and if it worked or not by looking at the weed pressure. We compare drone imagery to our yield maps and see if there is a difference.

We use drones for: crop scouting and fungicide/chemical trials, looking at drainage tile to see where broken tiles are or where it's needed, flying over the fields after heavy rain to evaluate the crops, and taking pictures and videos throughout the crop season.

   Drones in Ag 4


Desirae has four pieces of advice for those interested in exploring drone technology:

1. Have a budget in mind.

2. Have an idea of what you want to do with a drone, so you get the right equipment for your needs.

3. Know the FAA rules and get your license.

4. Keep practicing to get used to flying and capturing the images you want.

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There are many benefits to using the drone on the farm including, locating livestock.

Last fall, they lost a steer. She was able to track and find him using a drone.

In addition to crops, Desirae's family farm includes 2,000 sheep and 50 head of cattle.

PT Tractor Icon What do you do with the information/ images you've captured?

Desirae: I use software called Drone Deploy. This software allows the drone to fly autonomously and take pictures. I set the altitude below 400 feet (400 feet is the maximum altitude a drone can fly without an exemption) for the flight path, and it flies over and collects the data.

From there I am able to upload the images to create a stitched map. Once all picture are loaded we can look at many things, tile lines, elevation of the field, plant health, 3-D maps and 2-D maps.

PT Tractor Icon Name a woman, past or present, whom you admire.

Desirae: My mom is so kind hearted; she will go out of her way to help anyone that she can. She literally does it all for our family. She helps with every aspect of the farm from running machinery, moving livestock, to making sure everyone has food. She can do all the things the big boys can do plus some. My Mom is my role model.


What's in Desirae's future?

Desirae recently completed her degree in AgriBusiness from South Central College (part of the Minnesota State system) and plans on starting her own business where she offers services such as aerial photos and videos, insurance, agricultural inspections/ crop surveying.

The results of a 2015 Bank of America Merrill Lynch global research report projected agriculture will make up almost 80% of the commercial drone market with the potential to generate $82 billion worth of economic activity in the United States between 2015 and 2025.

Photography provided by Desirae Heideman.

related topics: Drones

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