The word “drone” brings to mind images of unmanned aerial vehicles spying on enemies and dropping explosives, but that is only one facet of their many capabilities.

Drones have a wealth of precision agriculture applications. Whether you need to check your crops for infestation, grid map your fields for nutrient management or even check on your cattle, a drone can do the job.

The Labette County FFA chapter recently received a unmanned aerial vehicle, donated by Tank Connection, and is using it for projects including Normalized Difference Vegetation Index imaging, site-specific farming on the school farm, as well as career development event preparation. In addition, one student has formed a precision agriculture business which will utilize the capabilities of the drone to help create management zones in crop fields. The career development events the chapter will use this technology in are Marketing Plan and Agricultural Sales.

The drone is a DJI Phantom and is equipped with a GoPro Hero 3 camera mounted underneath it. The drone has four propellers located on each corner and is steered by a handheld controller.

Labette County High School junior Deven Foster has developed his own business, Foster Agricultural Services and Technology LLC, or “FAST” as he calls it.

“I started this because precision agriculture is the future,” Foster said.

He is currently operating his business at the school farm with assistance from agriculture teacher Dustin Wiley and local farmer John Frazier.

Foster is taking soil samples from the field in one-acre plots and testing them. When he determines the amount of nutrients needed, he will apply them. Field grid maps from those tests are made, and are overlaid with a yield map in addition to the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index map.

NDVI is technology developed by NASA to show the density of green on a patch of land. The denser the vegetation, the more the wavelengths of light area affected. This map is created by a camera and GPS capabilities of the drone. The GPS can plot site-specific management zones on a grid in correlation with the soil samples; therefore the application of nutrients is specific to the area in need.

Another way drone technology improves fungicide, herbicide and nutrient efficiency is timing of application. The camera and drone allow the grower to view the entire field more efficiently and keep data of when plants start to show the signs of needing appropriate treatments.

For now Foster is focusing on the drone’s crop-related capabilities, but he feels the technology has big-time potential to help agriculture, “blossom into more than the sows, plows and cows, like some people think it is.”

The general consensus between Wiley and Foster is that students will have a new career avenue to choose from because of the advancements in technology for agriculture.

“This is technology that two years ago wasn’t available; this is creating the jobs of the future,” Wiley said.

But they also know this isn’t just for the younger generation. The older generation, whether they choose to use this technology themselves or to have someone do it for them, will experience the benefits of precision agriculture.