Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

Diversified Crops

Diversified Crops

UAV Benefits

  • Quickly fly your field, collecting pictures and video throughout the growing season
  • Increase efficiency and reduce risks of missing a potential problem
  • Map your entire field with stitching software to generate data associated with specific geographic coordinates
  • Further investigate areas of concern after stitching an image of your field
  • Higher-precision nutrient application through the creation of a field prescription
  • Visualize changes in the field you may not otherwise see from the ground

UAV Challenges

  • Clouds: Broken skies can ruin image quality.
    • Tip: Fly when skies are fully overcast or clear for optimal image quality.
  • Air traffic: Low-flying aircraft can threaten commercial UAV operations.
    • Tip: Watch for helicopters or crop dusters – the most common aircraft.
  • Camera settings: Incorrect settings can affect image quality.
    • Tip: It takes a little experience. Familiarize yourself with general camera settings and know the goals of each particular flight.


Planter setting issue in sunflower field

Flown by Austin Pearson, Agriculture & Natural Resource Educator, Tipton County, Purdue Extension

A first-time sunflower producer wanted aerial imagery of their field. The producer was working with a local company to harvest sunflower oil and was concerned about the skips and bare spots in the field. It was determined that the producer encountered a planter setting issue, which led to poor establishment.

The field was flown using Drone Deploy. Both RGB and plant health images are included below showing seventeen percent of a 2.4-acre field left bare due to the planter setting issue.


Master Gardener daylily demonstration bed

Flown by Lais McCarty, Agriculture & Natural Resource Educator, Hancock County, Purdue Extension

Drone images were taken in this Master Gardner demonstration garden bed to identify different Daylily varieties.

Daylily image

Swine manure applications

Flown by Adam Shanks, Agriculture & Natural Resource Educator, and John Scott, Digital Agriculture Extension Coordinator, Purdue Extension

Project collaboration with Joe Rorick, Conservation Agronomist, Conservation Cropping Systems Initiative

Starting in June 2019, we observed the effects of sidedressing swine manure diagonally through rows of popcorn at V4 stage, or when the four leaves had expanded. Flights were conducted on the day of application and one month and two months thereafter.

June 27, 2019

There was minimal damage to the crop after application as you can see within the cover crop. The plants damaged during the application were unaffected at the growing point; therefore, the plant still survived.

Growing Point
July 26, 2019

The popcorn appeared to recover well from the June application and appeared healthier than the area of the field sidedressed with swine manure in fall 2018 (on left).


The plants on the left were sidedressed in the spring, and the plants on the right were from the fall 2018 application.

corn stalk
August 29, 2019

The image below on the left uses Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) and is a classic indicator of plant health. The image below on the right uses Normalized Difference Red Edge (NDRE), which is similar to NDVI but uses a different band of light and can be a valuable index when monitoring health of mature plants. The popcorn sidedressed in June (right) appears to be healthier than the field applied in fall 2018.


Popcord NDRE


Popcord NDRE

Industrial hemp for fiber and grain production

Flown by John Scott, Digital Agriculture Extension Coordinator, Purdue Extension

Images of industrial hemp in its first year were taken to understand the crop in terms of fiber and grain production. The first image is a truecolor or RGB image of the plots, while the other three are plant health maps all measuring vegetation index values. The normalized difference red edge (NDRE) is more sensitive to chlorophyll content, changes in leaf area and soil in the background and shows greatest detail at this stage of hemp development.









Industrial hemp for CBD production

Flown by Ashley Adair, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension - Montgomery County

Images of industrial hemp in its first year were taken to understand the crop in terms of CBD production. The maps not only reveal what commercial production of hemp looks like using remote sensing but can also pinpoint trouble areas worth investigating.

Hemp_Sept RGB Orthomosaic
Hemp_NDRE Plant Health

This video gives you a closer look at field management practices of this commercial operation.

Crown rust in oats

Flown by Mark Carter, Agriculture & Natural Resource Educator, Purdue Extension

A producer noticed discoloration in his oats and called the local Purdue Extension office for advice. The oats were planted as a cover crop to be used as forage, so we contacted Dr. Keith Johnson, the Extension forage specialist. He and Extension educator Mark Carter determined the issue and flew the field to inspect the widespread damage. The disease is evident in the RGB map and is even more apparent in the VARI map. VARI stands for Visible Atmospherically Resistant Index and is designed to work with RGB sensors to identify crop stress and generate variable rate prescriptions. Plant samples were also collected and crown rust was confirmed by Purdue Pest and Plant Diagnostic Laboratory.

September 24, 2019


oat rust rgb


oat rust vari
October 14, 2019


RGB Oat Rust


vari oat rust

Popcorn stand counts

Flown by John Scott, Digital Agriculture Extension Coordinator, Purdue Extension

Drones were tested on performance in taking stand counts to evaluate seed spacing and uniform stand in rows of popcorn. Flights were conducted around the V2 growth stage or when two leaves are fully emerged to avoid too much canopy coverage. Four flights were conducted at 30, 50, 70 and 400 feet above ground level to compare resolution. Counts were conducted using Drone Deploy as well as Purdue startup Progeny, then compared with data from field crews. Both counts fell within an acceptable margin of error for the popcorn company.

30 feet above ground level
WPH count
Weaver delphi

Strawberry planting

Flown by Austin Pearson, Agriculture & Natural Resource Educator, Purdue Extension – Tipton County

This video was taken to demonstrate how one producer uses a modified ground-driven tobacco transplanter to plant strawberries used for direct-to-consumer sales. This video can be used as marketing for the producer or demonstrate a new practice to small farm operations.

Urban vegetable farm

Flown by Crystal Van Pelt, Agriculture & Natural Resource Educator, Purdue Extension – Steuben County

A flight was conducted over urban vegetable farm Johnny Mae Farm in Fort Wayne, Indiana. A historic fire station is home to the farm who sources locally grown food to residents of surrounding neighborhoods from its ¾-acre produce plot. This imagery is just the beginning of our efforts to use support remote sensing to help urban agricultural systems.