Flying the Fields with Ethan Johnson

flying-the-fields-mastheadFor more than a year, Ethan Johnson has operated a Phantom III Professional Quad Copter for Doug Abeln Seed Co. in Groton, South Dakota. He says the aerial images help them see trouble spots in fields.

“We like to use the drone to help us with our tiling projects,” explains Ethan. “We look for trouble areas within a field that could be fixed with tile. We also like to use the drone to look at corn planter shut-offs in late spring to see if our planter is as accurate as the monitor says it is. The drone also has also been a helpful tool with crop insurance issues like spray damage or hail.


Ethan Johnson (pictured at left) operates a Phantom III Professional Quad Copter for Doug Abeln’s (pictured at right) Seed Co. in Groton, South Dakota.

Unfortunately, this season he discovered a new use for their drone when Goss’s Wilt was spotted across a corn field. After seeing how badly the field was affected, Ethan says the next step is to select a hybrid with a better tolerance.

The view from a drone also allows farmers to see a different in stand between hybrids.

“Plant health is something we like to look at from above,” says Ethan. “It really gives you a different picture, literally, than what you can see at the ground level. You can see a lot from the air, at different times of the season. It’s helpful to identify problem areas before you’re in the combine.”

For farmers who are interested in purchasing a drone, Ethan recommends looking at the Phantom IV because it’s more up-to-date. He also advises them to consider purchasing the Sony

“Buy your drone as a package deal with extra batteries and a carrying case to save some money,” he says. “You will need an iPad Air II because older models won’t work. Finally, always be safe always. Use common sense when flying drones, so no one gets hurt.”

Rules require you to keep the drone in sight, and you must operate your drone at 400 feet or below. Click here for 5 things to know about the new FFA rules regarding UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles, aka “drones”) for agricultural use.

During the Latham Hi-Tech Seeds’ Technology Field Day near Watertown, Ethan Johnson talked with farmers about the advantages of flying UAVs over their farm fields. This photo gives an aerial view of Latham stress wheel plot, which demonstrates optimal plant population.