Up, up, away and goneTOWNER, N.D. — One of the new, exciting developments in agriculture is the potential for unmanned aerial systems to give farmers and ranchers a bird’s-eye view of what’s going on with their plants and animals.
By: Ryan Taylor, Agweek
TOWNER, N.D. — One of the new, exciting developments in agriculture is the potential for unmanned aerial systems to give farmers and ranchers a bird’s-eye view of what’s going on with their plants and animals.
Maybe that’s what our 10-year-old had in mind when he bought a model rocket launch set with money he had been saving. Kind of a next step into unmanned aerial system (UAS) technology for the Taylor Ranch, following up on 4th of July bottle rockets and parachute fireworks.
Either that, or he just saw the cool picture on the box and the words “High altitude rocket!” and “1,100 feet!”on the front. Exciting stuff, as indicated by the exclamation points. Actually, looking at the box, nearly everything was followed by an exclamation point: “Includes Launch Pad and Controller!” and “More Exciting Choices!” I guess that’s how rocket people talk! And son and I would soon be part of that exclamatory fraternity!
It would be son and I because, while the age recommendation said 10 and up, it was quickly followed with “adult supervision under 12.” Or maybe it was “adult supervision under 12!” Either way, I wouldn’t have not been part of this easy-to-assemble project to explore the air space above our ranch.
The potential uses for UAS in agriculture are nearly endless. Outfitted with cameras and software, the little farm drones could update you on plant development and weed infestations, pinpointed needs for spray or fertilizer and all without traipsing across the field. Us livestock guys could be checking cattle and fences from our desk and find out if the stock water tank two miles away is still full on a hot day.
Granted, a lot of the potential is yet to be sorted out as the rules are written for commercial uses, designated airspace and privacy concerns, but the idea of getting to play with a remote-controlled helicopter or airplane and make it part of your work is pretty engaging. For now, on the Taylor Ranch, the adult supervisor and the supervised were going to send that rocket up 1,100 feet and see what we thought about sending stuff up in the air.
The first time we had it all set up and ready to go, we packed up the whole family, set it up in a wide open area, had a camera ready to capture the action and did a “T minus 10” countdown. Nothing. Just disappointment and mosquito bites. We packed it in.
A week or two later, adult supervisor and the supervised put a different rocket engine (the neat explosive part) and starter (the little piece of wire that makes it explode when you hit the switch that sends current from the battery) in it. We just went a couple hundred feet out in the pasture, no siblings, no camera, because past experience told us it probably wouldn’t work anyway.
“Ten, nine … ZOOM!” off it went before we even got to eight. It’s then that we realize how hard it is to see a little yellow rocket 1,100 feet in the air. It pops out the orange and white parachute, all according to plan. I lose sight of it as it drifts northwest from the southeast wind. Son loses sight of it as it drifts toward the setting sun.
As of this writing, we have yet to find our rocket. Gladly, it was unmanned. Sadly, the claim on the box that “This rocket can fly over and over again!” might not prove true for us.
I guess if we’re going to experiment with UASs on the ranch, we might just as well lose the $30 ones and get that out of our system before getting into the $3,000 or $10,000 models.
For now, I have something to keep an eye out for as I check that pasture with our old technology … by horseback.