Using a Drone for Crop Scouting This Year

Jarrod O. Miller, Extension Agronomist,; Cory Whaley, Sussex Co. Extension Ag Agent,; James Adkins, Irrigation Engineer, and Jake Jones, Extension Agriculture Agent, Kent County,

While drones are hailed as the future of precision agriculture, their best use in farming is still as a scouting tool. A drone can be a useful tool for both farmers and consultants, and they do not need to be very expensive to be effective.

Through a grant funded by the Delaware Soybean Board (, we explored their usefulness over the 2019 season. Early in the season, scouting was still best done by foot or 4-wheeler, unless you fly the drone slow and low (Figure 1). We found the maximum usefulness to occur as beans canopy and become difficult to walk through. Larger patterns emerge, whether insect, disease, or nutrient, once the canopy begins to cover the soil (Figure 1). A drone also took an average of 7 minutes to cover the field but could take longer depending on the user. A drone can also be useful to scout for irrigation patterns and equipment issues. With a little time and skill, a remote pilot can go from watching irrigation field patterns (Figure 2a) to hovering over equipment (Figure 2b). In most cases the drone will help find issues faster, but it is still recommended to use diagnostic tests (disease/nutrient) to uncover the actual issue.

When looking to purchase a drone, we recommend making sure it has the following:

  • A camera
  • Connects to your cellphone/tablet
  • Safety features : “Return to Home” Function or Obstacle avoidance
  • Good signal range for your field size

To read the full report, go to:

Flight 1

Figure 1. Automated (pre-planned) flight from June 4 (a), June 19 (b), July 2 (c), July 17 (d), Aug 1 (e), Aug 21 (f), Sept 9 (g), and Sept 26 (h) in a soybean field at 200 feet AGL.

scouting 2

Figure 2. Scouting irrigation (a) and checking on irrigation equipment (b)


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