Steve Cubbage is a precision ag consultant and farmer from Nevada, Mo.
Steve Cubbage is a precision ag consultant and farmer from Nevada, Mo.

What do growing crops and social media have in common? The answer is—they both love a good selfportrait—or selfie as it has become known in today’s digital society.

Just like selfies of Kim Kardashian have taken over Twitter, the same could now be said of the newfound interest in crop imaging.

Why now? What has changed to make crop imaging or remote sensing all of a sudden so hip?

Industry experts point to the “rise of the machines” or unmanned aerial vehicles as the reason. Everyone from the paparazzi to farmers seemingly have their hands on a drone.

For farmers, drones are the ultimate Christmas gift that Santa never brought them as a kid. But now that they can take “crop selfies” of their growing fields, they’re quickly discovering that there might be economic value in those pixels as well.

Remote sensing is nothing new. Imaging from airplanes has been around since 1908, and the Space Race of the 1960’s took remote sensing to a whole new level. One could make the case that it has been the convergence of technology that has resurrected the interest in crop imaging.

GPS, computing power, tiny sensors, mobile technology and ultimately drones are combining as the tipping point.

All this technology finally came together to compress something called TIME. Time is the enemy of crop imaging. Even though remote sensing services for agriculture have been around for decades, they never really took off.

Satellites were supposed to be the savior for imaging services. And it wasn’t that the product was bad but the process was painstaking slow. It could be days, even weeks before you might get images of your fields back.

When corn is growing so fast that you can hear it, you don’t have days or weeks to make an in-season management adjustment. And because satellite resources were so limited, if it was cloudy the day of your field’s flyover it could be another two weeks before the satellite would be back around.

That describes the state of crop imagery before the drones descended on agriculture in just the past couple of years. The drone technology showed it could provide instant feedback or instant gratification to farmers and agronomists. The explosion of interest that the agriculture community has shown in crop imaging technology has spurred advancements in the field at an unprecedented rate.

DroneDeploy, MavRX and PlanetLabs are all prime examples of how quickly the landscape has changed for the better when it comes to crop imaging. It also shows that even as much hype as there is focused on drone technology, traditional or legacy delivery methods of plane and satellite are not going to go away. These three companies are providing much different innovative solutions to deliver more imaging services at lower cost in less time than ever before.

DroneDeploy, a Silicon Valley-based company is focused on delivering imagery services back to a farmer or agronomist minutes after flying a drone over a growing crop field. Meanwhile, MavRX is a manned aerial imaging service that is leveraging the power of the Cloud and modern GIS tools to quickly send back agronomic imagery. And finally, PlanetLabs is debunking the myth that satellites can’t compete in the imagery race. Its flock of micro satellites, nicknamed “doves,” can visit your fields daily and instantly upload data to your Cloud-based account.

Keep your eyes toward the sky because it is likely that one of these companies—or ones offering similar services—will be an integral part of precision services for most U.S. farmers and retailers in the very near future.