Applications for Drones in Agriculture

Type of imagery plays major role in desired applications Drone-Agriculture

Author: Nate Dorsey, RDO Equipment Co.

The June 2016 update to the FAA’s Part 107 regulations for flying drones is just one factor contributing to the increase of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) use in several industries, including agriculture. But that’s only half of the story. As anyone in business knows, in order for a tool to make sense on a worksite, it first has to make sense on the bottom line.

In order to see a return from a drone investment on your farm, you need to know how to use a drone to save time, improve efficiency, and increase yields. Then, the real key to unlocking the true value of a drone comes from understanding the technology behind it.

Aerial Imagery
The high-quality images produced by drones are used for everything from pre-season scouting to monitoring crop health to identifying equipment issues. Drones produce three common image types:

Color (RGB)

-RGB images are similar to photos from a regular camera. They’re easy to understand, even for the novice drone user, but are the least descriptive of the three types.

Near Infrared (NIR)

-NIR provides images with higher levels of detail than those produced by RGB by utilizing color bands outside the light spectrum visible to the human eye.

Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI)

-NDVI uses both visible and near-infrared sunlight reflection to measure biomass (vegetation). Similar to NIR imagery, NDVI provides a higher level of detail than RGB images.

Each of these image types play an important role in the various applications for which drones are used.

Pre-Planning
The coverage area, vantage point, and speed a drone provides makes it a great tool for pre-season scouting. Using standard RGB imagery, the drone can produce 3D maps used for soil evaluations, topography reviews, and identification of drainage issues.

By gathering, reviewing, and evaluating this mapping data prior to planting, you only have a complete view of the whole area, but you may be able to identify problems and adjust planting strategy before, rather than during, the season.

In-Season Assessment
The primary advantage of drones over a manual scouting process is speed. An area normally monitored by a crop scout in several hours can be covered in a single, quick drone flight. This allows for one of the most common uses of drones in agriculture – ongoing monitoring of crop health throughout the season. NIR imagery is most valuable in this process for several reasons.

First, NIR images show heat so they can easily identify areas of plant and water stress. Their high level of detail offers additional applications such as weed detection, defining management zones, evaluating effectiveness of ponding and water management, and quantifying machinery-induced crop limiting factors. This ability to identify concerns and intervene quickly is directly linked to a better year-end harvest.

There are uses for RGB images in-season as well. They’re often used to identify planter skips and evaluate areas of lost production, allowing you to correct the problems.

Long-Term Analysis
In addition to their immediate help before and during the season, drone use can be beneficial over long periods of time. Like RGB and NIR, NDVI images can also show ponding, help assess crop vigor, and show changes in field conditions over time.

NDVI images measure the amount of biomass or “greenness” of a plant and create an index, which is then compared to areas of less vegetation and more vegetation. The numbers range from -1 to +1, with high amounts of biomass and green vegetation having increasingly positive numbers.

NDVI values are very sensitive to anything that affects light, such as haze, clouds, or even soil. For this reason, NDVI images are most effective in optimum conditions.

Bottom line: A drone is a helpful tool that can provide quality data and images but it’s up to you to analyze data and use it to make the best decisions for the crop and your farm.

Read the entire version of this article, recently featured in Progressive Forage Grower magazine.

To learn more about drones, contact the team at RDO Integrated Controls.

RDO Water in Indio Moves to RDO Equipment Co. Store

Agriculture equipment, parts and service, and irrigation solutions now in one location RDO-Equipment-Co

Author: RDO Water

RDO Water and RDO Equipment Co. announce RDO Water in Indio has relocated into the existing RDO Equipment Co. store at 83-300 Avenue 45. The move brings to the store RDO Water’s full irrigation solutions including pipe and system rental; pipe and pump repair; system automation, design and installation services; consulting services; and products including drip tape, sprinkler heads and fertilizer.

RDO Equipment Co. in Indio is a full-service John Deere agriculture and construction equipment dealer with both new and used equipment, a vast parts inventory, and highly-trained service department. Not only does moving to a larger building enhance RDO Water’s offerings, it opens additional opportunities for customers as well.

“We want to provide our customers with the opportunities and solutions they need to be successful,” Bruce Daughters, Vice President of RDO Water said. “By combining our agricultural equipment, service, and irrigation solutions, we’re offering customers new opportunities and ways to enhance their business, enabling them to maximize that success.”

In addition to the Indio store, RDO Equipment Co. and RDO Water have combo stores in Salinas and Watsonville, California. The company has 16 total stores throughout the state of California.

A grand opening celebration is planned at the Indio store. Customers and partners can stay up-to-date on details by visiting the RDO Water and RDO Equipment Co. websites.

Pistachio Growers Wrap Up Record Harvest

Minimal insect damage and “blanks” found in this year’s crop California-Pistachios

Author: Tim Hearden, Capital Press

Pistachio growers in the San Joaquin Valley are wrapping up their harvest of a bumper crop that’s set to easily surpass the record 555 million pounds produced in 2012.

Growers are taking heavy hauls while finding very little insect damage, said Richard Matoian, executive director of the Fresno-based American Pistachio Growers.

The group has estimated this crop will end up weighing in at between 650 million and 800 million pounds.

“As I’ve talked with growers, the harvest has gone really well across the board,” Matoian said. “There’s no trailer-busters or over-the-top huge crops, but every orchard seems to be running pretty heavy.”

Trees were loaded with nuts after achieving sufficient chill hours last winter for the first time in three years and after last winter’s rains improved drought conditions in many orchards.

The big crop is a contrast to last season, when the drought and a lack of winter chilling hours caused growers to encounter an inordinate amount of “blanks” — fully formed shells in which a nut never developed.

This year’s percentage of blanks was closer to normal, or about 10 percent of the crop, Matoian said. What growers are dealing with this season is closed shells, but they can open them up mechanically, he said.

“The other thing I’m hearing is that staining on the shells is low,” he said. Hulls that adhere to the pistachio shell can cause discoloration, which can affect quality, he said.

While walnut and almond growers in California are trying to rebound from a steep drop in prices, wholesale pistachio prices from last year to this year are only off about 15 percent, Matoian said.

Growers have initially been guaranteed between $1.70 and $1.80 per pound, but that will likely go up via a negotiated “marketing bonus” at the season’s end. Farms ended up receiving roughly $3.50 per pound for their 2014 crop.

Matoian expects the worldwide market to be “pretty much on par with last year,” when California’s light crop was offset by big crops in other parts of the world. This year, it’s California that has the big crop, he said.

“We’re going to be able to regain a lot of export-country share that we had lost in the last year,” Matoian said. “That’s my belief.”

Full article shared from Capital Press website.

Demand for Brussel Sprouts is Booming

Growers are seeing good yields, good quality, and good prices Brussel-Sprouts

Author: Kevin Hecteman, Ag Alert

Remember when kids made funny faces at the dinner table when they were presented with a plate of Brussels sprouts?

Yeah, not so much anymore. These days, people are eating them faster than Steve Bontadelli can grow them.

Despite expanding his acreage beyond the Santa Cruz area, “we still haven’t been able to catch up with demand,” he said. “The market is still strong. But we’re doing our best.”

Santa Cruz County had 1,129 acres planted to Brussels sprouts in 2015, according to the county’s crop report. Those acres produced about $16.4 million worth of sprouts. About 300 of those acres in the Santa Cruz area have Bontadelli’s name on them; other growers he works with have close to 300 acres among them. Through a partnership, Bontadelli has additional land in Oceanside and Mexico for winter planting and harvesting.

So far, 2016 has been kind.

“It looks really good,” Bontadelli said of his crop. “We started harvesting by hand in July; that’s just now winding up as we’re moving into the machine harvest part. Quality’s been excellent. It was a perfect growing summer because of all the fog we had. They really like that cool summer weather.”

Too much heat results in leafy, fluffy sprouts, he added. Buyers should look for “a nice green color, no yellow leaves, firm compact heads, inch and a quarter or so in diameter.”

As of last week, a 25-pound carton of Brussels sprouts was going for $30, still a high price, Bontadelli said.

“Records have been broken for the last couple of years,” he said. “It was $40 for a month last year, which a few years ago was unheard of.”

The harvest in Monterey County is looking good, too.

“So far, production here in Salinas and Monterey County has been off to a great start,” said Katie Harreld, sales manager and Brussels sprouts commodities manager at Ippolito International in Salinas. “We’re seeing very good yields, very good quality, and production continues to pick up each week as we get more and more into the fall and ready for the big holiday pushes we get in November and December.”

Ippolito has sprouts growing in Monterey County, Oxnard and Mexico to help keep up with demand. Acreage has increased each year, Harreld said. She attributed the growing popularity of Brussels sprouts to chefs looking for new dishes to prepare.

“You’re seeing Brussels sprouts on so many menus now in restaurants, on a lot of the cooking shows that you see on TV and a lot of the food magazines,” Harreld said. “They’re being prepared so many different ways now. The creativity the chefs are using is giving people more ways to taste them than they ever did before—they were just getting steamed and boiled—but it’s just each year the demand and the pull just gets larger and larger. They’ve almost become an everyday vegetable.”

That growth led Bontadelli to look for ways to boost production. One way is to begin harvesting earlier in the year.

“The reason we hand-harvest is to get them sooner,” he said. “The plant naturally develops from the bottom up. In order to machine-harvest them, they all need to be the same size. So you go in, you pinch the terminal bud on the plant about 60 days before your harvest time. The sprouts on the bottom are maybe a half-inch diameter. That stops the plant from growing, and the sprouts all even up, become about the same size on the stem, so that you can pretty much harvest everything that’s on the plant.

“So you pick them by hand … the bottom ones get to be an inch, inch and a quarter in diameter, and you just pick the bottom two or three rings. You water them, you come back a couple of weeks later and pick another couple of rings and work your way up the plant as the sprouts mature, which allows you to start harvesting in 90 days instead of 150 days that you have to wait for them to be all the same size.

“It’s a lower-volume thing,” Bontadelli said. “There didn’t used to be very much demand in June or July for Brussels sprouts. It was more corn or watermelon.”

Bontadelli is a fourth-generation farmer; his father and uncle developed the Brussels-sprout operation in the 1960s, he said.

“They were growing strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, a lot of the things that we grow here on the Central Coast,” Bontadelli said. “When the Brussels sprouts started becoming popular in this area, we found that they grew very well. They made the decision to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond rather than the small fish in the big pond.”

Ippolito is another of those big fish. The company describes itself as the largest grower and shipper of fresh-market Brussels sprouts in North America. Harreld said her company sends the vegetables all over the United States and into Canada; others find their way onto cruise ships sailing out of Florida. Harreld said her company has been able to keep up with demand, but it’s not easy.

“One of the challenges with Brussels sprouts is they’re a very long crop, from when it’s planted to when it’s harvested,” Harreld said.

“Brussels sprouts can be a six- to seven-month crop depending on the time of year,” she added. “That can pose a challenge when trying to keep up with that demand because it’s hard to make a quick reaction. You’ve got to be really on top of your numbers and your plantings.”

Bontadelli, of course, highly recommends adding these sprouts to one’s diet.

“They’re really good for you,” Bontadelli said. “They have more vitamin C than an orange, high in (vitamin) A and folic acid, a lot of anti-cancer benefits, too,” he said.

Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert.

Full article shared from Ag Alert, with credit to the California Farm Bureau Federation.

Salinas and Watsonville Stores Hosting Open Houses

 Attendees invited to meet the staff, learn more about full company offerings, and enjoy lunch RDO-Equipment

Author: RDO Water

RDO Equipment Co. / RDO Water in Salinas and Watsonville are hosting open house events for customers and individuals interested in learning more about complete agriculture equipment and irrigation solutions.

The Salinas event takes place on Thursday, October 6, while Watsonville’s event is happening on Friday, October 7. Both events will begin at 11 a.m. and end at 1 p.m., during which time the stores will be open for tours and lunch. Team members from RDO Equipment Co. and RDO Water will be available to answer questions and talk with attendees about the products, services, and support offered.

As a full-service John Deere agriculture dealer, RDO Equipment Co. stores offer both new and used equipment, vast parts inventories, and service departments with highly-trained, certified technicians.

“We’ve been proud to partner with agricultural professionals in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties,” Darrell Olson, General Manager of RDO Equipment Co. in Salinas and Watsonville said. “I personally look forward to seeing our longtime customers, as well as meet new ones.”

Bruce Daughters, Vice President of RDO Water, echoed Olson’s enthusiasm, saying, “We have unique strength in the Salinas and Watsonville stores, with RDO Equipment Co. and RDO Water operating under one roof. Our team is eager to show customers the advantages of working with a single enterprise for their agriculture equipment and irrigation needs.”

RDO Water’s full irrigation solutions include pipe and system rental, pipe and pump repair, system automation, consulting, design and installation services, and products including drip tape, sprinkler heads, and fertilizer.

To learn more about the open houses or offerings from RDO Equipment Co. / RDO Water in Salinas and Watsonville, contact your local store.

Micro-Sprinklers in Strawberry Production Saves Water

Research study conducted in partnership with RDO Water Strawberry-Micro-Sprinkler

Author: RDO Water

In October 2014, a 10-month research study began on the use of micro-sprinklers in strawberry production. RDO Water was a key participant in the study, conducted at Manzanita Berry Farms in Santa Maria, CA, in partnership with University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension.

RDO Water released its results and analysis of the study in January of this year. Earlier this month, UC published a story specific to the water-savings discovered in the study, as included below.

The Issue
Water is an important resource for growing plants, and it has become scarce due to epic drought conditions in California. Conserving water through improved irrigation practices is critical for maintaining acreage of a lucrative commodity such as strawberry. Strawberry growers typically provide supplemental irrigation through overhead aluminum sprinklers to mitigate the dry conditions of the region. However, they can be inefficient systems, because they require a significant amount of water, and because there is plastic mulch on the beds, which limits the water that enters the soil and increases runoff potential. Micro-sprinklers, commonly used in orchard systems, could offer an efficient alternative to conventional aluminum sprinklers.

What Has ANR Done?
A study was conducted at Manzanita Berry Farms in Santa Maria during the 2014–2015 production season to evaluate the potential of micro-sprinklers in strawberry production. The study compared conventional aluminum sprinklers with micro-sprinklers on about one hundred and twenty 330-foot-long strawberry beds. Data were collected on the amount of water distributed, electrical conductivity of soil that determines salt condition, strawberry yield, and the incidence and severity of powdery mildew and botrytis fruit rot. While there were no conclusive findings about diseases, there were significant water savings without a negative impact on fruit yield. Detailed information about the study design and findings can be found at: http://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcorepostdetail.cfm?postnum=19699.

The Payoff
Significant water savings without additional maintenance costs.
This study demonstrated 32% water savings in just 3 weeks of using the micro-sprinkler system. This new information can inform future growing practices for this important California crop, valued at $2.2 billion. An initial estimate by a vendor suggests that equipment and handling costs of the micro-sprinklers are more or less similar to those of the aluminum sprinklers. If adopted, strawberry growers could conserve resources without incurring additional maintenance costs or experiencing any changes to strawberry yield.

 

To learn more about micro-sprinklers, contact Danilu Ramirez at dramirez@rdowater or a local  RDO Water store. The full list of RDO Water’s eight locations in Arizona and California can be found at http://rdowater.com/contact.

 

Full article shared from UC Delivers, with credit to Dr. Surendra Dara.

Record California Walnut Crop at 670,000 Tons

2016 crop is 11 percent larger than last year Walnut-grower

Author: Cary Blake, Western Farm Press

California English walnut growers are poised to produce about 670,000 tons of nuts, up 11 percent from last year’s production of 603,000 tons, according to a survey by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) at Sacramento.

NASS’ 2016 Walnut O.M. Survey utilized a total of 729 blocks with two sample trees per block. Survey data suggested average nut set at 1,406 per tree, up 11 percent from last year’s 1,272.

In the survey, 2016 statewide percent of sound kernels in-shell was 98.7 percent with the in-shell weight per nut at 21.6 grams. The average in-shell suture measurement was 32.2 millimeters. The in-shell cross-width measurement was 32.7 and the average length in-shell was 38.2 millimeters.

All sizing measurements were below average levels since 1985.

NASS says the 2016 walnut season began with fair amounts of winter moisture and adequate chilling hours. Weather during the walnut bloom was average – a mix of ideal days and others with stronger winds and wet weather.

Rain during the spring moths increased blight chances.

Full article shared from Western Farm Press website.

RDO Water Acquires Kuida Ag Supply Company of Salinas

Acquisition expands irrigation offerings at RDO Water stores in Salinas & Watsonville RDOWater_Salinas

Author: RDO Water

RDO Water, along with RDO Equipment Co., announces the acquisition of Kuida Ag Supply Company of Salinas. Over the next few weeks, RDO Water will be moving all Kuida Ag operations to its combination RDO Equipment Co. / RDO Water stores in Salinas and Watsonville.

The acquisition expands RDO Water’s offerings of irrigation products and solutions, which includes pipe and system rental; pipe and pump repair; system automation, design and installation services; consulting services; and products including drip tape, sprinkler heads and fertilizer.

RDO Water is also retaining the full Kuida Ag staff, bringing its strong community ties, deep knowledge of the industry and region, and more than 25 years of experience to the RDO Equipment Co. and RDO Water businesses.

“We’re thrilled to be adding Kuida Ag to the RDO Water team,” Bruce Daughters, Vice President of RDO Water said. “The company’s strong customer relationships and regional insights are all valuable on their own, but most important is the philosophy of Kuida Ag. One that treats customers as stakeholders in the business and, above all else, puts people first. It aligns with how we’ve always done business at RDO Water and will continue to do going forward.”

Not only does the acquisition enhance RDO Water’s offerings, it opens additional opportunities for RDO Equipment Co. customers as well. Darrell Olson, General Manager of RDO Equipment Co. in Salinas explained, “Our customers have come to expect a total solutions experience from us, with agricultural equipment, service, and irrigation solutions. It’s exciting for us to provide them even greater opportunities to enhance their business.”

RDO Equipment Co., a full-service John Deere agriculture equipment dealer, has been serving the Salinas and Watsonville areas since the dealerships were acquired in 2011. The company acquired RDO Water – Salinas in 2013 and added RDO Water to the Watsonville store in 2015.

A grand opening celebration is planned in October at the RDO Equipment Co. / RDO Water store in Salinas. Customers and partners can stay up-to-date on details by visiting the RDO Water and RDO Equipment Co. websites.

Butterflies May Signal Future Alfalfa Problems

Alfalfa caterpillars, the larvae of butterfly eggs, can cause reductions in yield and quality Butterflies-Alfalfa

Author: Mike Rankin, Hay & Forage Grower

Butterflies in alfalfa fields may be free and make for a good photo opportunity, but they also can indicate future alfalfa worm-feeding issues. That’s the warning coming out of Central California where alfalfa fields are awash with yellow and white butterflies this summer.

“Some alfalfa fields appear more yellow and white than green with outbreaks of alfalfa caterpillar butterflies in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys,” notes Rachael Long, an extension farm advisor in the region. “In certain cases, the populations have been massive,” she recently reported in the University of California extension’s Alfalfa & Forage News.

It’s not that the butterflies do any direct damage, but the eggs they lay soon develop into larvae known as alfalfa caterpillars. The yellow butterflies, sometimes referred to as sulfur butterflies, are cyclical, occurring in large numbers every few years. According to Long, contributing to high populations are factors such as slow and uneven alfalfa growth, a lack of predator insects such as the parasitoid wasp, and hot, dry weather.

The alfalfa caterpillar worm is green with a white stripe along each side. “They consume entire leaves and strip a plant, causing significant reductions in yield and quality if numbers are high enough,” Long notes. In severe cases, plants can be completely stripped of the high-value leaves.

Sulfur butterflies and the associated alfalfa caterpillar are not confined to California. The species can be found throughout the United States. According to the “Compendium of Alfalfa Diseases and Pests” (Third Edition), this pest does the most damage in the southwestern U.S., usually on irrigated fields. In southern regions, up to seven generations can occur, whereas in northern locations there may be as few as two.

The economic threshold for controlling alfalfa caterpillars is 10 healthy, nonparisitized caterpillars per sweep of the net. California specialists recommend scouting for the pest in conjunction with armyworms. They have produced a video that helps growers and consultants identify the worms, their natural parasite enemies, and how to differentiate a healthy worm from one that is parasitized.

If treatment thresholds are reached and the field is not close to harvest maturity, there are several chemical control options available for spraying alfalfa. Products containing the bacteria Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) are also an option. Long reports that a number of fields in Central California have already required chemical applications to control their worm outbreak.

Full article shared from Hay & Forage Grower website.

Drip Irrigation Study Shows WUE Improvement

Study evaluated drip system distribution uniformity in key produce regions of California California_Drip_Irrigation

Author: Hank Giclas, Western Grower & Shipper

Water use efficiency has long been a priority for produce growers in the United States, but with diminishing water resources there has been a renewed urgency to improve efficiency in drip irrigation systems.

Western Growers, in concert with JR Simplot Water Services and The Toro Company, recently concluded a study to evaluate distribution uniformity in drip irrigation systems in key produce regions in California, including both the Oxnard Plain and the Coachella Valley.  This study was done in cooperation with Western Growers members who were interested in water efficiency and will be published soon to provide useful information to those operating drip systems.

An irrigation system’s uniformity of water distribution or distribution uniformity (DU) is a key measurement of a system’s water use efficiency.  If water is not distributed evenly or uniformly on a field, areas receiving less acre-feet of water may have poorer plant health and reduced crop yields.  Conversely, to compensate for unequal distribution and avoid reduced yields, the system must over-irrigate.

DU, expressed as a percentage, is considered outstanding when above 90 percent, as good between 70-90 percent, and poor when it is below 70 percent.  Operating with a DU above 90 percent makes good economic sense in that DU correlates closely to crop yield and reduces costs related to increased water use, which includes the water itself, energy to power the system, and often fertilizers and other chemicals run through drip systems.

These increased costs can be significant.  For example, an irrigation system operating at 75 percent DU versus 85 percent DU can use more than twice the water, three times the fertilizer and increase energy cost by three times.  In addition to increased costs, poor DU also impacts yield revenue.  A study in 2014 (J Anshutz, “Retrofitting your irrigation system for success and profitability”) assumed an average yield of 2,500 pounds per acre and a crop value of $3 per pound.  In a field with 85 percent DU, the author estimated a per-acre revenue loss of $188 due to DU degradation, while in a field with 75 percent DU, the loss grew dramatically to $563 per acre.  These numbers increase substantially as DU further degrades below 70 percent, demonstrating a real impact on the bottom line for growers using poorly designed and maintained irrigation systems.

Read the rest of the article here.

Full article shared from Toro DripTips website.