RoboFlight Systems LLC., a geo-referenced aerial data company that processes, analyzes, and manages multi-spectral aerial imagery data, is proud to announce its intent to independently assist Wal-Mart in reaching newly announced water pollution and agriculture production efficiency goals through the use of its breakthrough UAV platforms and their industry leading remote sensor data analysis software, AgPixel.

RoboFlight System’s respected team of agricultural scientists includes Dr. Deon Van Der Merwe and Dr. Kevin Price. Both understand the detriment that chemicals can play in the ecological cycle of agriculture. “It seems that Wal-Mart, along with many important interest groups and stakeholder in agriculture, have realized that the over application of chemicals, fertilizers, including phosphates and nitrogen, and other agricultural chemicals such as herbicides and insecticides, have a negative impact on the quality of one of our most limited resources -- fresh water,” observed Dr. Van Der Merwe. “Run off from agricultural fields containing fertilizers and chemicals ends up acting as containments in reservoirs, and this leads to pollution of fresh water including both surface and ground water sources. This is a problem that is increasing throughout the globe due to the need to increase food production.” 

Increasing levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in surface water leads to the creation of toxic algae blooms that can be a poison risk to people, pets, and livestock. Further, recreational access to reservoir bodies of water can be limited or even restricted, leading to high financial losses for businesses that are tied to these water sources. “Industry experts are even seeking to prove a link between the drastic reductions in the Unites States' bee population and the excessive use of insecticides. Bees play a critical role in determining annual yield for crops that are dependent on pollination. Fewer bees equate to lower food production totals and higher costs,” shared Dr. Price.

One of the most promising approaches to helping a company like Wal-Mart reach their goals is the use of remote sensing as a tool to achieve lower application rates of chemicals on crop fields while not negatively impacting production. RoboFlight Systems relies on both small UAV and full scale aircraft to proactively acquire imagery data that can be used in precision agriculture efforts. The application of fertilizers and chemicals only to parts of the field deemed necessary will be a major factor in the overall reduction of chemical use in agriculture, leading to a reduction in chemical contamination in runoff water. This has two consequences: it leads to improvements in water quality as well as improved profits in agriculture industry due to reduced input costs.

RoboFlight System’s AgPixel software converts imagery pixel data from digital photos into a key measure of plant growth and vigor: the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). With near automation, farmers can then have AgPixel compare NDVI values across the entire field to those from a reference strip where crop plants are given all the nitrogen fertilizer they can handle. The end output is a map of variation in plant growth linked to crop nitrogen status which can be used to apply fertilizer where it’s needed, reduce where it is not, and to increase the conditions for improved crop yield. Unlike tractor mounted or handheld instruments, a UAS can collect the necessary imagery from a 640-acre field in under 45 minutes in most cases. In certain studies, the nitrogen uptake rates have improved by nearly 25%, correlatively meaning a reduction of nitrogen application of 25%.

“Data can be used in the implementation of precision agriculture practices as well a recorded verification that agriculture focused sustainability goals set by large organizations, like Wal-Mart, were truly achieved”, explained Phil Ellerbroek, RoboFlight System’s Global Director of Sales. “Prior to using this new remote sensing technology, companies with aggressive sustainability goals have not been able to verify the success of their efforts. In working with RoboFlight Systems, sustainability officers will be able to include necessary documents for validation of their public report.”

“RoboFlight wishes to partner with Wal-Mart and its suppliers in demonstrating how they can implement precision agriculture and verify its impact on sustainability in chemical use and its impact on the environment. We have the software technology, hardware, and team to help make Wal-Mart’s goals a reality”, said TJ Agresti, CEO of RoboFlight Systems. “We are extremely excited for an opportunity to demonstrate the unique data that we are able to capture and then analyze via our AgPixel software, and invite Wal-Mart and any of its agricultural suppliers to contact us directly for more information.”