6 Issues Farmers Found Using Aerial Imagery

April 24, 2019

It’s likely that your farm has its own unique challenges each season. With aerial imagery, the ultra high resolution images of your fields can help you detect signs of issues earl on, allowing you to fix problems before they hurt your yield.

These real life aerial imagery examples show six unique use cases for what you can detect in your fields:

  1. Irrigation issues
  2. Application issues
  3. Disease damage
  4. Pest & weed damage
  5. Weather damage
  6. Field variability & testing

1. Irrigation issues

Equipment Failure

irrigation equipment issues

Thermal and NDVI aerial imagery helped this grower identify irrigation system failures. Thermal imagery detects slight changes in temperature, which can be an early indicator that something is wrong. Properly irrigated areas will show as cool spots, while water stressed areas will show as hot areas.

Tile Line Irrigation System Not Draining Properly

irrigation drainage issues

Aerial imagery helped this grower identify irrigation and drainage system failures in their fields. These issues are often discernible by looking at geospatial patterns that are difficult, if not impossible, to see from ground-level. In this example, poor tile line performance resulted in inadequate drainage in the western third of the field, which resulted in nutrient losses and a nitrogen deficiency later in the season.

2. Application issues

Herbicide Drift

herbicide drift

This NDVI image shows herbicide drift damage on a field. The field to the north was treated with a herbicide that drifted south and severely damaged the northern part of this field. The green, low growth areas show the herbicide damage. In this case, 38% of this field has suffered damage from herbicide drift.

Fertilizer Application Malfunction

fertilizer application malfunction

This NDVI image shows a fertilizer application malfunction. One side of the applicator was applying fertilizer at a 15% lower rate than on the other side, which was applying the correct rate.


3. Disease Damage

Sudden Death Syndrome in Soybeans

sudden death syndrome soybeans

In this example, the grower noticed suspicious areas of low growth in the imagery which, upon in-field inspection, turned out to be a Sudden Death Syndrome. The awareness of this issue didn’t help the grower in season, but allowed him to consult with his agronomist regarding how he might prevent the issue from happening next season.

Verticillium Wilt Damage

disease: verticillium wilt

Verticillium wilt damage shows clearly in aerial NDVI imagery. By looking at the image above, you can see there is a major issue in this field—the high resolution makes it easier to identify the abnormal variation in growth than it would be with satellite imagery.


4. Pest and Weed Damage

Aphid Infestation - Alfalfa

aphid infestation - alfalfa

The images above show a portion of a field that is damaged by pests. In the image on the right, the red area around the outer edge of the field that spreads inward towards the center indicates where the aphids entered the fields.

Weed Pressure - Corn

weed pressure - corn

In this example, the grower noticed a suspicious area of high growth in his field in the June 27 image (left), and after scouting the field discovered the area was infested with weeds. The grower applied herbicide to this area, but the July 8 image (right) showed that the weed infestation had spread despite the treatment. With this imagery, the grower could determine that the herbicide was ineffective, and he used the imagery to obtain a refund. He was also able to apply a second weed treatment before it was too late.


5. Weather Damage

Hail Damage

hail damage

In this example, the August 29 NDVI image shows damage from a recent hailstorm. The low growth areas suffered damage from the storm, which can be confirmed through in-field scouting of the affected areas.


6. Field Variability + Testing

Nitrogen Deficiency & Variable Rate Nitrogen Application

 nitrogen deficiency and variable rate N application results

In this example, the grower identified a low growth area from a June image (left), which alerted him to a nitrogen deficiency. Having quantified the nitrogen-deficient areas, the grower decided to make a variable rate nitrogen application, targeting the deficient areas with a higher rate. The September 11 image (right)  shows that the nitrogen application was successful in creating uniform growth throughout the field two and a half months later.

Hybrid and Fungicide Trials

 fungicide trials on hybrid test plot

In this example, the grower planted different corn hybrids in the north and south part of his field, and conducted three fungicide trials in the left, center and right zones of his field. The August 22 image shows that the top hybrid and center fungicide treatment are the most vigorous. The September 17 imagery shows that this trend continues to hold a month later. With NDVI imagery, the growers was able to compare the performance of the hybrids and fungicides.

Soil Saturation & Nutrient Leaching

 soil saturation: horizontal nutrient leaching

The images above show a field that has experienced nutrient leaching due to poor tiling and heavy rains. The red, orange, and yellow in the image indicate stressed zones of the field where the crop may be experiencing nutrient deficiency.

All images and Information provided by TerrAvion


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Rachel Nizinski


Rachel Nizinski is a Michigan native who developed a passion for agriculture throughout her time growing up in the Midwest. She attended Saginaw Valley State University, and joined the FarmLogs team as a content writer in 2016.