Unmanned Aerial Systems, You Must Understand the Facts for 2014

This week we’ve been discussing a technology that seems to be rattling the agriculture industry – unmanned aerial systems. We had a Unmanned Aerial Systems - Chad Colby - AgChat.orgfantastic discussion last night during #AgChat on Twitter where we discussed various sub-topics such as types of UAS to the legalities behind the devices. While the technology is becoming more readily available, its important that you understand the facts behind utilizing it. Therefore, we have provided a reference guide to assist you as you make decisions about how you will fit it into your farm or ranch.

reposted from AgTechTalk.com with permission from Chad Colby

One of the most promising new technologies for use in agriculture is Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS).  These systems have the potential for farmers to monitor their crops for problems in a quick and affordable manner. It is very important to understand the facts about this new technology. I continue to hear of farmers planning to hire newly formed UAS companies for 2014, and that my friends is against the law. If a company is offering you a service to provide images or information from a UAS for a fee – it is ILLEGAL.

Many companies in the Agriculture Industry are investing millions to learn how to understand the capabilities of Unmanned Aerial Systems. In the spring of 2014 you can expect lots of expanded research to understand how to measure the vegetative index of a plant to detect issues like disease, nitrogen deficiency, flooding, etc. To do this they will use infrared and thermal camera technology. Colleges and Universities all over the country are also working to help develop programs for students who can support this new industry. The uses for this technology is truthfully unlimited.

Photo credit Chad Colby AgTechTalk.com

Two different aerial systems exist to do this type of data collection. One is a small helicopter with three to four rotors and the other is a small fixed wing airplane. The one you should choose depends on your mission and which systems works best. Honestly, the actual ship is the easy part. The technology already exists to do almost all functions needed to “scout” and get imagery of any field.

The biggest development over the next year or two will be the camera technology used in the systems. Camera designers are currently working to build a camera specifically for UAS. These cameras hold the future of how effective UAS will be in agriculture. It’s easy to get an infrared image, the challenge is to be able to make effective decisions with the data collected. A few weeks ago I saw a new design of a thermal camera, and wow was it impressive. I will be doing some independent testing of cameras in the spring of 2014 and will be reporting back on those.


One of the major reasons I have become outspoken about UAS is because of the lack of knowledge about this topic. There seems to be some serious confusion about the current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. It’s very important if you are considering this application on your farm is to understand the rules. The facts are this simple: If an individual or company flies any unmanned aircraft for commercial use, it’s against the law. Period. You can use a unmanned aircraft for non commercial or private use, provided you operate it correctly as a hobby aircraft.

Chad will be hosting an Unmanned Aerial Systems Training Class on Saturday,
Feb., 15th, 10am-3:30pm at the Asmark AgriCenter in Bloomington, Il.
For additional information contact Chad directly at chadacc@aol.com or 309-361-5564.
written by Chad Colby

Chad Colby - AgTechTalk.com

Beginning at a young age, Chad Colby’s passion revolved around technology. Known as the “tech guy” amongst his friends and family, Chad grew up in Bureau County, IL, where he worked on the family farm. After leaving the farm, he spent several years with a Los Angeles based aviation construction company developing, building, and designing airport hangar projects across the country. During this time, Chad earned his pilot’s license and found a passion for aviation.  He then returned to his roots in Illinois and combined agriculture with aviation to educate farmers and ranchers about the latest technology in the industry.  In 2013, Chad developed AgTechTalk.com to provide readers with the best information pertaining to unmanned aerial systems. As a guest speaker at the 2013 John Deere Global IT Conference he shared his expertise while presenting, “Drones in Agriculture, the Next Phase in Precision Farming.” Most recently he has been involved with Market to Market as well as This Week in Agribusiness’ and travels the country delivering presentations about the latest in precision agriculture. Chad resides in Bloomington, IL  with his wife Karen (partner at McGillicuddy Corrigan Agronomics) and daughter Bristol. Connect with Chad on Twitter: @TheChadColby, by visiting www.AgTechTalk.com or by emailing him at chad@agtechtalk.com.



Redhead Creamery Brings Youth Back to the Farm

webshotThis week we’ve been discussing young/new farmers and startup businesses. The Tuesday night #AgChat was fast-paced and fun! Questions ranged from determining the “ideal” age for a young farmer to challenges facing new farmers and types of skills needed to be successful.

A unique success story we would like to highlight comes from Minnesota and the Redhead Creamery. We were able to catch up with Alise Sjstrom, President and dreamer maker behind the expansion of her family’s dairy.

Q: The Redhead Creamery is a new venture for your family. What was your motivation for beginning the Redhead Creamery?

A: The idea of coming home to my parent’s farm to make cheese came from a trip to the  National 4-H Dairy Conference when I was a senior in high school. We toured Crave Brothers Farmstead Cheese, and I was hooked. I came home and told my parents that the only way I would come home to the farm was if I could make cheese. They said ‘go for it’. I’ve basically dedicated my life to cheese ever since.

The name Redhead Creamery comes from my hair color, as well as the color of my three sisters’ hair. It was a no-brainer.
Q: Beginning a new business in agriculture is risky, what resources did you use to help guide you through the process?
A: There couldn’t be a more opportune time to start a new business in Ag than now. I have some advantages: I grew up on a dairy farm, I went to an Ag-focused university (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities), my jobs have always focused around Ag or cheese, I married a guy that grew up on a dairy farm, my parents are as supportive as they come and I have an awesome support system all over the country. That doesn’t mean we didn’t seek out help.

Past co-workers and acquaintances of cheese companies have been the best resources. Artisan cheesemaking is not very common in central Minnesota, but our banker has been outstanding. He’s even taken the time to read some of our farmstead cheesemaking books <– another resource. Our farm business manager has assisted us with financial guidance and business structure. My personal experiences working for cheese companies and my training at the Vermont Institute of Artisan Cheese ultimately guide us through this process.
Q: Your family used a unique way to partially fund your business. Can you tell us a little bit about the process?
A: I first want to make clear that Kickstarter did not fund our new business. Starting up a farmstead creamery will cost us nearly 10 times what we raised through the campaign.  What it did do for us is raise awareness. Our first contributor was from California. We’ve never met the guy, but he has now named a cow on our farm.

Lucas (my husband) read about Kickstarter in the New York Times about 5 years ago when we were living in Vermont. He thought that if we ever did decide to come home and start a cheese company, that this could be the best tool we use. He was right. The press and exposure we got from those 30 days of raising $35,000+ was unbelievable. We knew we needed around 500 contributors to average out what was typically given, based on statistics from Kickstarter. We had 499 and were funded 8 days early. Our rewards were based on things that we would appreciate getting: cheese, tours, branded swag and dinner on the farm and social media is what allowed us to really get the word out. Lucas had sent out a press release about a week prior, but Facebook gave us the ultimate exposure.
What really helped us succeed is the help and experience from past Kickstarter campaigns. We attended a workshop at the American Cheese Society conference all about Kickstarter from two successful entrepreneurs who started or expanded their businesses on Kickstarter. Their experiences and answers to our questions really helped refine our strategy for the better.

Q: If you had to do it again, what would you do differently?

A: I’m not sure that we would do anything differently if we were to run a campaign again. Some of the best advice we got prior to launching is to give ourselves enough time to get the rewards out. It takes some time to get everything organized, no need to beat yourself up over it.

Q: Are you providing tours of the creamery?

A: Once we are up and running, tours will be available at the creamery. We are still a few months out before we can begin production.

Q: What is it that connects the creamery to the consumer?

A: We specifically designed the creamery so that the public can come in and watch us making cheese without interrupting the actual cheesemaking process. The processing area is all on one floor – the basement. The public can come in on the upper floor and look down through viewing windows into the cheesemaking room. The upstairs also has a kitchen and tasting room where we hope to host smaller events and gatherings.

Our dairy barn is only 50 ft away from the cheese plant. We will be gravity flowing the milk right from the milk room to the cheese processing room, so visitors will be able to fully realize the connection of cows to cheese and fresh milk to quality cheese.
Q: What goals do you have for agriculture advocacy?
A: Other than doing something we truly love, the primary reason for coming back home is to give our own children the opportunity to grow up on a farm. The second, is to further educate our peers about where their food is coming from. We plan to host events and tours as well as sending ourselves to them for cheese tastings and educational purposes. We have the moral obligation to talk about and show what we do in a positive and exciting way. We can’t wait to get started!
Such an inspirational story and passion for cheese! Like anything in life, you must start somewhere. The Redhead Creamery began as a dream and in the spring of 2014 they will have brought that dream to reality. For more information about the creamery or to follow their story visit the website or Facebook page.
Are there other farmers or ranchers who have utilized the KickStarter or similar campaign?
Jen Schweigert - TheMagicFarmHouse.com
Jenny serves as the AgChat Foundation Communications Director while helping manage her family’s small hobby farm in central Illinois. In addition to AgChat.org, she can be found blogging about life on the farm, Jersey dairy cattle, hunting and her boys, all at TheMagicFarmHouse.com.


How Do You Talk About That? Part I: GMO’s

A question we often receive from readers is “how do I talk about _____.” In an effort to answer this question we’ve created a series of posts to help you discuss tough topics like GMO’s, being a conventional farmer who farms non-GMO, farming organically and more. As an organization we do not focus on messaging however, with this series we are merely providing a platform so others can share their advice. We would love for YOU to also share in the comments your positive tips about talking GMO’s. ~Jenny Schweigert

5 Tips for Talking GMO’s

1. Don’t be Quick to Anger

This can apply to all agvocacy.  Many people you’ll interact with online may have very little if any first hand knowledge of what happens on How Do You Talk About GMO's on www.AgChat.organy kind of farm.  Everyone can’t know everything.  How much do you know about brain surgery?  Understand when starting a conversation that it really does help to feel out concerns of people versus laying out a lecture to tell them how things really are.

2. Explain Why You Employ Biotechnology

Every farm operation is different.  Be sure to explain to people why you choose to use a certain kind of seed on your farm.  Maybe a particular pest or weed has been a problem and Bt or herbicide tolerance has helped solve that issue.  Has biotech helped you become a more sustainable farm?  If your entire crop isn’t GMO you could explain why the whole operation doesn’t consist of biotech seed.

3. Bt Doesn’t Equal No Insecticide

Sometimes people who raise Bt crops tell others they don’t use any insecticide.  This is misleading since Bt is an insecticide.  There’s also a good chance the seed is treated with something like Poncho to combat pests.  Be honest and let consumers know you use pesticides, but you just may not spray them.  It’s also worth mentioning that because of Bt and seed treatments the need to fill a sprayer with fuel, water, and insecticide to apply an in-season insecticide is often not necessary.  Spraying also requires time, labor, and could cause soil compaction.

4.  Tool in the Toolbox

Biotechnology is a tool we use to address certain management issues.  It’s not the be-all, end-all answer to every agronomic choice.  Good agronomy transcends production practices, and people should know how biotech, conventional, and organic are similar.  All farms face pest, disease, weeds, and weather and everyone approaches those challenges in their own way.

5.  You Have a Choice

Let people know you can choose to buy seed from anywhere you please.  Anyone who has been a proponent of biotechnology for very long has surely encountered backlash claiming farmers are controlled by “Big Ag” seed companies who only create GMO crops to sell you their herbicides.  Another claim is that farmers must continue to buy seed from the same company.  But anyone who has ever bought GMO seed knows this isn’t true.  Sure there are some restrictions, but no one is stopping you from buying seed elsewhere.  In fact, nothing you’ve signed in a tech agreement says you must buy any kind of chemistry if you buy seed.  Let people know that once you purchase seed you are free to manage that seed as you see fit.

written by Brian Scott


Brian Scott blogs at TheFarmersLife.com

Brian Scott is a 4th generation corn, soybeans, popcorn and wheat farmer from Indiana. He is Purdue graduate who majored in Soil and Crop Management. For Brian the learning continues as his inner #AgNerd chases the progression of precision agriculture and is ready to take farming to new heights.  You can follow along with the happenings of Brian’s farm and #AgNerd adventures by visiting www.TheFarmersLife.com or on Twitter (@TheFarmersLife) and Facebook.

Crop Rotations and the Importance of Diversity

In the 100 years that our farm has been in the family, we have grown a variety of crops. Wheat has always been in the rotation, along with the occasional oats, barley, and flax. For many years, the Olson family grew seed for the Minnesota Crop Improvement Association.

Currently, we have a three crop rotation – about 1/3 corn, 1/3 soybeans, and 1/3 small grains. Our small grains are usually hard red spring wheat, and a small field of barley mixed with field peas. We like the three crop rotation because it spreads out the work load, has different weed suppression, breaks the insect cycles, and is good for the health of the soil.

The first thing we do in the spring, as soon as we can get out into the fields, is prepare the small grain fields.  Depending on which field is ready first, we’ll either plant the barley and peas first, or the wheat. We use a grain drill, and GPS AutoSteer technology to seed the grain as soon as the seed bed is ready. When we plant our barley and peas, we first seed the field peas, and then we move the grain drill over about 3 inches, and seed the barley. The barley and peas grow together, dry down together, and get harvested and stored together.  They are separated before they are hauled to their final destinations by a portable grain separator that we have here on the farm.

Small grain fields tend to have different weed issues than corn and soybean fields do. Since the small grains are planted so early, they are established before the smaller weeds get a chance to become a problem. This helps to control the smaller weeds by smothering them out.  One nice thing about this natural weed suppression is the minimal need for weed control in the small grain fields. Although we still walk the fields for Canada thistle, we are able to concentrate our weed control efforts in our corn and soybean fields.

When August rolls around, we are scouting the small grain fields a little more often as we prepare for harvest. We like that one-third of our harvest is finished before the soybeans really start maturing. After the small grain is harvested, we will plant a cover crop of oats and tillage radish before turning our attention to the upcoming soybean harvest.

Over the winter, Jonathan and I attended a few conferences and soil health seminars, and listened to scientists talk about the importance of diversity in our rotations. Healthy roots in our cash crops mean better yields, and plants that can handle stress better. For many farmers, who do not already use a three crop rotation, and easy way to get a few of the benefits of a third crop is to plant a cover crop following soybeans.

Having a three crop rotation is one of the requirements for organic certification. We have always had an alternative crop in with our corn and soybeans, so this was not a difficult one for us. We like that growing a third crop helps to spread out planting and harvest, and we like what it is doing for our soils. Growing hard red spring wheat and a barley and field pea mix has worked well for us, and we’ll continue to grow them. Just like our ancestors did.

written by Carolyn Olson


Carolyn Olson guest post about crop diversification on AgChat.oCarolyn Olson raises organic corn, soybeans, field peas and small grains with her husband and their three daughters on 1100 acres near Cottonwood, Minnesota.  They also finish about 7000 conventional hogs annually.  The Olson family lives in the same house, and farm some of the same land that was purchased by Jonathan’s great-great-grandfather in 1913.

Carolyn grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, but became a farm wife in 1988.  She quickly learned how to drive tractors, haul corn wagons, and help with tillage in the fall.  She loves watching the seasons change, and looks forward to each growing season.  

Carolyn is the current president of the Lyon County Farm Bureau, chair of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Organic Advisory Task Force, and secretary of the local FFA Alumni Chapter. She is active in the Minnesota Farm Bureau, having served on the Promotion & Education committee, Growth committee, and Resolutions committee.  She is the co-chair of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Pork Chop booth at FarmFest. She has volunteered for FFA Chapters in Lyon County, helping with contest judging, Farm Safety and Petting Zoo days. She has also brought the FFA officers to the Farm Bureau Day on the Hill.  She is active in her church as a Senior High youth group advisor, Sunday school teacher, worship leader, and Choir member. She has served on the Southwest Minnesota Synod Assembly Planning Committee, where she has helped create the programs and worship experiences for over 700 attendees.

Ethanol and Cows

The ethanol world had a big shake up the other week when EPA announced a reduction in the renewable fuels standard. How much ethanol that will be required to be blended into gasoline is proposed to be dropped around 3 billion gallons from the 2007 goal of 18.15 to 15.21 billion gallons. Major news outlets picked up the story pretty quickly which tells you the importance of the potential implications beyond the farmyard. Reluctance by fuel manufacturers to blend ethanol above a certain level along with declining fuel use means they’ve hit a “blend wall”. This could mean trouble for crop farmers relying on ethanol production as a market for corn to keep prices up.

My Twitter and Facebook feeds saw an awful lot of chatter about this and its potential effects on crop markets. Notice I didn’t say corn markets even though that’s the major crop used for ethanol production? That’s because all the different crops we grow in this country including the forages and grains I feed the animals on my farm are constantly competing with one another for acreage. If one crop is worth more, others have to follow or they won’t get planted and corn has been leading the charge lately. It would be hard to make a case that the number of bushels of corn going to making fuel for our cars hasn’t had an effect on the prices and availability of feed for my animals. This graph from a Congressional Research Service report shows the increase in use of corn produced for ethanol.

Annual US Corn Use

While I feel bad for my crop growing friends who may be seeing an end to what have been some of the most profitable times in recent history, I’m looking forward to livestock farmers having a chance at a decent year of profits which have been hard to come by lately. Hay prices which are a major portion of the ration for our dairy cattle have gone from $130/ton 3 years ago for good quality hay to $230/ton for the same quality today. There has been a considerable amount of hay ground turned into corn ground in the past 5 years and I have a hard time believing that ethanol played no role in that. I was a supporter of ethanol in the beginning, believing what was good for some farmers would be good for all farmers in time and I’m still not entirely convinced that isn’t true. With the increases in crop prices meat and milk prices have followed which means there’s a lot more dollars flowing into agriculture as a whole. The increase in feed costs, despite higher prices for meat and milk, means margins have remained slim for livestock farmers especially those who don’t grow all their own feed.

Where will things go from here? I don’t know, to be honest, and if I did know I’d be a billionaire hedge fund manager by now. Personally I look forward to being able to find more farmers to work with that will be willing to plant hay and non-GMO crops for my livestock with a willingness to do a multiyear contract that will ensure we both make a decent living. I doubt the renewable fuels industry will go away and I hope it doesn’t as I feel it’s part of the solution to our energy and climate problems but it may have just grew too fast for our own good.

Guest post written by Tim Zweber
Tim Zweber
Tim farms with his wife, Emily, and his parents on their fourth generation organic dairy in Elko, MN. In addition to the dairy, Zweber Farms raises beef, pork and chickens for direct marketing. The Zwebers use Twitter, Facebook, and their website and blog to spread positive messages about agriculture. “Social media is important to our family because it is a way to develop relationships with consumers and other farmers.”