Using Drone Technology to Promote Co-management Projects

 preparing a drone for takeoff

preparing a drone for takeoff

How do we get more growers to participate in food safety and conservation co-management projects? How do we engage buyer support for conservation and co-management projects?  Sustainability managers get those questions all of the time.  It is a myth that growers and buyers just want to slash and burn in order to sterilize our farms, or that it is in the best interest of either one to do so.  When I was invited to join the Farm Food Safety and Conservation Network, I did some research on the concept of co-management.  Since then, I have had the opportunity to collaborate on a few projects with some amazing people, and see how co-management and collaboration can apply to agriculture.  What I learned from those projects, is that unless you can do the data collection, measure the effects of past and current practices, and find a way to convey your findings in a clear and concise way, it is difficult to move co-management projects forward.  In the past, the time and expense required in collecting the data and background necessary to work with consultants, farm advisors, and UC biologists prevented farmers from making the effort, and then, when the projects are done, nobody has the time to monitor and evaluate them.

While I have found a lot of value in the use of GPS mapping for collaborative projects in the past, Drone technology brings mapping and aerial imagery to a new and exciting level.  When you look at the mapping and aerial imagery, you see your farm's footprint as a part of the surrounding environment.  The challenge is to farm the inside of that footprint most effectively, without disturbing the outside.

3D post flight rendering for field assessment

I have taken a few buyer representatives around the ranches, and they always are surprised and impressed with how we co-manage their food safety requirements without creating the sterile, clear cutting of the land that some imagine. What if you could show them the farm, without all of the time and expense? The potential for communication is great.  If we can use the imagery to give virtual tours to food safety buyers and auditors, and with fertilizer suppliers to apply inputs only where they are needed, imagine the benefit to beneficial insects, bees, and the natural habitat surrounding the farm?  If we can pinpoint and cut back on the overuse of water and fertilizer, imagine the benefit in terms of water quality and water use?  When a grower or grower resource has a clear picture of what is going on, maybe even enabling grant projects, and/or saving money, we can make the most progress.  I think that the drone’s visual imagery offers the current, and eventually, historical data needed to facilitate co-management efforts.  Farming, food safety, and conservation efforts cannot be compartmentalized, so we have to look at the big picture.  This is one way to bring the big picture straight to someone's cell phone or laptop.

By Kris Gavin