Arable farm integrates drone use

By Drone AG

A Lincolnshire arable farmer is using drones and pioneering software to walk his crops. Chris Bealby of North Lodge Farm, near Grantham was an early trialist of Drone Ag’s Skippy Scout software, a mobile phone app which uses images taken by drones to spot problems with crops.

“I’ve always been interested in technology, drones and photography. I started by taking aerial pictures of the farm with a drone. I soon began to notice that some fields weren’t looking great and wanted to find a way to take images closer to the crops,” says Mr Bealby.

Using yield mapping, drone imagery and soil sampling Mr Bealby is able to identify the most profitable areas of his farm. “We’ve been able to identify areas that are not very productive to work on improving them or choosing to give them over for wildlife benefit,” he explains.

The early identification of weeds and pests is helping Mr Bealby to maximise yield and reduce unproductive areas on the farm.

“Early identification of weeds and pests is paramount. I have a routine of flying my drone regularly so that I can pick up on early signs of disease and take action faster,” he says.

North Lodge Farm extends to 324 hectares of combinable crops, including wheat, barley and oilseed rape. Saving time and being able to look at a crop that is miles from his house in minutes is helping Mr Bealby to cover the ground faster, which is saving him valuable time.

“I feel more on top of the farm because I can take my drone and, within minutes, I can see how the crops are doing. The drone also helps to confirm the information I receive from my agronomist because I can fly to areas he has identified and look at the crop up close,” he says.

Charles Wright, of Farmacy, is Mr Bealby’s agronomist. “Charles welcomes the use of Skippy and drones in farming, and I find using a drone helps me to stay in closer contact with him and his work on the farm,” says Mr Bealby. Skippy Scout can fly over a crop faster than possible on foot, which, alongside conventional crop walking, enables Mr Bealby to cover more land in more detail, and to share that information with Mr Wright.

Mr Bealby met Drone Ag founder Jack Wrangham at a drone flying course in 2018 and was one of the first farmers to help with beta testing the first version of Skippy Scout.

“I was really interested in how Jack had combined drone photography with crop knowledge to produce an app capable of showing a farmer how well the crop was performing,” he says.

Skippy Scout V2 was launched in March 2020 and Mr Bealby was one of the first to download it. “This new version is easy to use, so much faster than walking the crop and a great way for me to work with Charles to identify any potential problems.”

Mr Bealby has embraced new technology and integrated drones into the way he farms. However, he says that farmers do not need to be technically minded to benefit from drones.

“Skippy does everything for you. I don’t have to fly the drone I just choose points on maps of my fields that I have downloaded to my phone. The app flies the drone which sends back images of the crop for the app to present to me. All I have to do is click what I want to see,” he says.

Skippy Scout is a monthly service that farmers and agronomists can download using most smart phones. The contract for a single user like Mr Bealby is £30 per month. “To get this level of technology and for it to be so easy to use for so little money is incredible. After a day with a drone and Skippy any farmer should feel confident to monitor their crops using drones and save themselves time and effort in the process,” he says.

Drones are more accessible than ever before. Those weighing less than 250 grams fall below the threshold that requires the owner to have a licence to fly. The Mavic Mini is one such drone and prices start at just £369.

“Drones have come down in price significantly in recent years and something like a Mini is adequate for most small to medium sized farms to use for crop walking. In the future I see an ever-increasing number of farmers choosing to adopt drone technology. Drones save time, help to identify crop problems faster and cost very little to buy and run,” concludes Mr Bealby.

For more blogs and news, see the CropTec blog here