Taking agriculture and forestry to new heights

By Haley Mitchell Godwin

The Crenshaw County Extension office hosted an informative workshop titled “The Sky is the Limit: Drone Use in Ag and Forestry” Oct. 12 at the Tom Harbin Ag Center. The event, which began at 5:30 p.m., provided a glimpse into the future of agriculture and forestry practices for those in attendance through an array of engaging topics, live demonstrations and insightful discussions.

Topics included the utilization of drones for chemical application, prescribed fire ignition and more. Attendees were treated to a Chicken Shack dinner sponsored by the Alabama Natural Resources Council and an engaging question-and-answer session.

The workshop began with a presentation by Mason Walker, owner of Osprey Agridrone Solutions in Waxahachie, Texas, who shared his expertise on drone usage in agriculture. Walker, whose grandfather Max Walker is a Luverne resident, highlighted the significance of agricultural drone spraying solutions incorporating advanced AI-driven technology to enhance crop management and monitoring while saving time and increasing workflow efficiency.

“As the owner of this company, I enjoy being able to help introduce innovative solutions into the agriculture community,” Walker said.  “My team and I believe in these drones so much that we are not only service providers but also authorized dealers for DJI Agriculture. I do believe drones will offer a more sustainable future across all aspects of life which is a future I want to be a part of.”

A demonstration was given by Kelvin Daniels, Drone Coordinator with the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC), who provided insights into the various ways AFC deploys drones. Daniels noted that AFC uses drones for controlled burns, aiding in underbrush management, wildfire fighting and managing insect and disease-related challenges in forestry. 

Daniels shared his expertise on aerial imaging and mapping, shedding light on the diverse ways in which drones are utilized by the AFC to provide services and programs to landowners.

He explained that the AFC offers a range of services, including aerial property maps with markup, digital copies for landowner management plans, images and video footage upon request.

“We now offer a mapping service,” Daniels said. “Whether it’s a single photo, live imaging, video, or a complete map of the property, the AFC offers a full line of drone aerial services.”

For $150 for the first 75 acres (and $1 per acre after that), the forestry commission flies a drone with a camera on it over a person’s property to create a map. Daniels said the landowner is given a poster size image of the property as well as a thumb drive of the images that had been taken. All of the photos are taken from 400 feet or less.  An overlay of the property boundary from GIS is used as a start, and boundaries for the images are changed as needed to get the whole property.

“It is a great management tool, especially if you know you are going to be doing some work on your property, whether clearcutting or thinning or burning,” Daniels said. “I can give you a before and after look, and you can see how well the burn or thin really took after a year or two later whenever you tell me to come back the same time (of year) I came out the first time.”   

All drone operators with the Alabama Forestry Commission hold a license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Daniels provided important information about the regulations governing drone flight, including height limits, night flying and the requirement for remote ID on drones. 

The workshop concluded with an update from John Knighten, Soil Conservation Technician with the National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), on the programs and initiatives available to landowners. NRCS provides technical and financial assistance to agricultural producers and forest landowners to address natural resource concerns, such as: improved water and air quality, conserved ground and surface water, increased soil health, reduced soil erosion and sedimentation, improved or created wildlife habitat and mitigation against drought and increasing weather volatility.

“The deadline to apply for programs available for the 2024 fiscal year is November 3.” Knighten said. “Unfortunately, we don’t offer assistance on drones, but we do have forestry programs and we offer some assistance to poultry farmers and cattle farmers. We use every penny of the government funds we are given on land owners in Crenshaw County. We would love to get our landowners signed up. So, if anyone is interested in more information or signing up for any of these programs, please stop by our office.”

The Crenshaw County NRCS office is located at 1686 S. Forest Avenue in Luverne and can be reached at 334-335-6507.