ORLAND, Calif. — Rice growers Joe Richter and Jim Bell wanted to get a bird’s eye view of their own fields to gain a better understanding of how well their crops grow.
So they took aerial photographs of their fields using a program from AgPixel, an Iowa-based firm that uses sensing technology to detect plant stresses before they are visible to the naked eye.
Now the two have their own company, Willows, Calif.-based AgVision, and provide aerial surveying of rice fields, nut orchards and row crops for growers throughout the Sacramento Valley.
“The most critical thing is, data has to be usable” to help growers cut costs or increase revenue, Richter told a gathering Nov. 15 at the Glenn County fairgrounds in Orland. “We wanted something that would be high-quality and flexible when people needed it.”
Richter and Bell use a fixed-wing, manned aircraft to capture their images, while some other growers and businesses use drones. Aerial imagery can help a rice grower spot inconsistencies in aerial applications of fertilizer or seed and help a nut grower see troubled areas in orchards that would otherwise take days or weeks to survey from the ground, Richter said.
“The most important thing is not just the information you collect but what you can do with it,” he said, noting that the data could help a grower know where to take soil samples or do weed control.
Richter spoke during the opening session of the inaugural North State Precision Ag Expo and Farm Business Forum, a two-day conference that was to feature more than 30 presenters on precision technology and farm management as well as about 40 trade show vendors.
Fair director Ryann Newman created the event after hearing from growers that they’d like to learn more about all the new ag-related technology available. Other discussion topics were to include precision nutrient management, irrigation and soil moisture testing and mobile device applications that can change how a grower does business.
Among the trade show booths was one operated by Bob Myre of Myre Distributing in Willows, who was demonstrating a computerized tractor steering system used for planting crops.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Myre said of the conference, adding it would teach growers about the technology that’s available. “We have the tools to obtain precision when farming, when doing fertilization.”
Butte City, Calif., alfalfa and walnut grower Cameron Jantz, a beginning farmer, wanted to learn what tools are available to make the job easier.
“I’m actually here looking at precision irrigation stuff, like drip tape,” he said.
The conference and trade show come as a recent USDA study found that many growers aren’t using the precision technology with which their farm machinery is equipped.
Richter said he became interested in the subject two years ago at a conference in Oregon, but he said much of the emphasis then was on drones.
“Everyone is interested in the hardware but not what you can do with the pictures,” he said.
“For precision ag to work,” he said, “you’ve got to be able to take the information and turn it into action.”