The following commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of AgWeb or Farm Journal Media. The opinions expressed below are the author's own.
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A few weeks ago I poked fun at ag drones pointing out that it's hard to generate income by flying over crops. There is another more serious reason why I am not on the drone bandwagon—they may be superfluous soon.
Consider this screenshot of my house from Google Maps. Now, let's switch to the satellite view. Since shifting to Landsat 8 last year, the resolution on Google Earth has been a little spooky.
The satellite is 435 miles high and orbits the earth about every 100 minutes. It records 700 scenes per day.
This image is from about this time in 2015. Images are selected by how rapidly things on the ground are changing so updates for my location are unpredictable.
What I want to show is this. If you zoom into the highest resolution, I noted with some consternation you could tell if anyone was in the pool.
Aside from making me think twice about skinny-dipping, this suggests to me that if the public images are this good, what must the military and intelligence images from satellites be like?
Regardless, much of my skepticism on the future of drones is based on the prediction that as satellites become smaller, more sophisticated and much cheaper to launch, we may not be that far away from nearly real time crop monitoring from space.
Even weekly images of your farm would be powerful tools, especially when it would be easy to stack successive shots into a stop action video of the crop developing.
It's easy to forget how two-dimensional our thinking is. Climbing to top of the grain bin can be a surprising epiphany—and that's only 50-odd feet.
The idea behind drones may be valid, but it looks to me like that type of information will be better and cheaper when it comes from space.
I do agree that satellite imagery is only going to get better. But satellites fall short in providing normalized and accurate radiometric data. Using modern photogrammetry techniques UAS can provide growers with accurate and normalized data in different lighting conditions. I believe soon we will see wide spread use of drone sensor based N recommendations for many crops