From the Farm:

UAVs in Agriculture, Featuring Francis Kelsey

Blog written by Leah Clawson

Meet Francis Kelsey, the manager for Northwood Farms, Inc.

Have you ever wondered how unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, can be used in the agriculture industry? Francis Kelsey is a Kansas Corn Growers Association member who is exploring the use of UAVs on his farming operation, Northwood Farms, Inc close to Silver Lake.

Francis, a fifth-generation farmer and photography enthusiast, enjoys using his UAV to take aerial photos and to check on the condition of his crops. When Francis flies his UAV over a field, he is able to capture images of the field, which allow him to see areas of the field he would not easily be able to access, if at all. He can then use the images to check for drowned-out spot, thin stands, disease, weeds or even debris after a storm.

When asked about the advantages of using a UAV on Francis’ farm, he replied, “Even standing at 6’ to 6’5”, we cannot see over the top of the corn. However, when we use a UAV, we have a height advantage and we can fly over the crop to take aerial images, which allow us to see the corn from above.” Francis went on to explain the advantage of using those images to detect issue areas in the crops by saying, “When we notice weeds or damage from disease, we can then have an aerial applicator come in and take care of the issue.”

Using a UAV allows Francis to see over the corn plants to check the condition of the crop.

Francis knows other farmers who have taken the use of UAVs on their farms to the next level, and can use their UAVs to produce Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) images. NVDI images use Near Infrared (NIR) light to generate photos, which enable farmers or agronomists to detect additional plant stressors with a precision not otherwise detectable by the human eye. Francis also has neighbors who have implemented UAVs on their ranch to check on their cattle. Whether UAVs are used to check crops or livestock, Francis realizes there are benefits to implementing UAVs into a production agriculture operation. Francis stated, “A UAV is a tool. The agriculture industry is just beginning to see the benefits of using UAVs, and the agriculture industry is continually finding more uses for UAVs.”

Francis recommends beginner UAV users to start with a DJI Phantom 3. He is happy with this more economical UAV for checking his corn and soybean fields.

Northwood Farms is located in northeast Kansas, and Francis acknowledged using a UAV-use does not come without challenges. The main challenge he has faced when using a UAV is wind speed, “Kansas is known for being windy and sometimes it is too windy to put the UAV up in the air.”

Even though flying a UAV can be difficult at times with the Kansas wind, Francis enjoys using a UAV on his farm. To farmers who are interested in using a UAV, Francis says, “This is a good time to get started.” Francis understands the importance of making economical decisions on a farming operation, which is why he encourages other farmers interested in using a UAV on their farm to start out with a UAV like his, which is a DJI Phantom 3. Francis explained, “Beginning with a simpler UAV, like mine, is less expensive. Then after learning how a UAV fits into a particular farming operation, if someone decides they want a more cutting-edge UAV, they can purchase a UAV with more advanced capabilities.”

Using a UAV on his farm has been an enjoyable investment for Francis. Not only has it enabled him to take his passion for photography to new heights, using a UAV has also allowed Francis to provide better crop management.

If you are interested in seeing images from Francis’ UAV use, follow his farm on Facebook: Northwood Farms, Inc.