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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Aerial view 'priceless' to local farmer Brandon Gibb

Irrigating canola
Brandon Gibb photos
Toni Lucas

Brandon Gibb is a 32 year old farmer and rancher based near Hillspring Alberta. He and his family, including his two young boys, make the fourth and fifth generation of the family at the R and B Gibb Farm.  Gibb originally learned about care for the land from his father and grandfather, and he continued that education with a Bachelors Degree in Agricultural Plant and Soil Science from Brigham Young University.  One of the latest tools he is using in farming is drone flying equipment to get an aerial view of the land.  Some of the key uses for this equipment is to check for water, drainage, and irrigation concerns, for insurance purposes, and to help find livestock.


Gibb did a lot of investigating for what sort of equipment would suit his needs by asking others on Twitter.  "I saw a few guys had them, and I asked them a few questions, and did some online research.  I decided for myself an entry level UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) or drone, a DJI Phantom 2, was the way to go.  I wanted to see if this was something that would actually work, or if I really wanted to get involved in."  Gibb said that when he was investigating systems some of were up to $20,000 and more.  Gibb estimates he has invested $1,500 in the small helicopter style drone, a GoPro camera, and a gimbal.  "Without the gimbal, you get what they call the jello effect, where you get the vibration off the helicopter," he explained. "We just picked it up this past early spring.  We are mixed farming, so we do small oil seeds, and grains."  Gibb estimates he uses aerial photography 2 - 3 times a week, depending on need and weather conditions as it cannot use it in high winds or rain.


"The biggest thing we were looking for in the spring was drown out areas and drainage concerns.  Then once the crops started merging, we were looking for trouble spots, to determine what was causing it not to merge properly.  In the crops now, we are looking at canola uniformity of flowering, and cereals we are looking at lodge spots."  Lodging is when crop falls over before harvesting.

"So far this year, it has paid for itself 10 times over just on drainage issues we have seen. It is something that you can't always see from the ground, but once I got up in the air I was able to show it to our irrigation board that there were some drainage issues with the ditch that they buried.  So that helped us get that pipeline fixed up so the natural drainage will occur."

"We have been using it for irrigation, checking for uniformity of water application.  In the fall, something we have looked at is we run cattle.  We are looking at when we are rounding up cows, to see if there are any in the bush we can't see from horseback.  Hopefully, it will speed up the process of rounding up the cattle."  Gibb said that he learned the value of an aerial view a few years ago.  "When I did and internship on a big potato farm in Michigan they would hire a helicopter once or twice a year to get an aerial view of what was going on in the fields.  So for me, a birds eye view is priceless."

"One of the other reasons I bought it was for hailstorms, to track which parts of the fields got hit."  Gibb feels that time saved and being able to avoid driving on his crops makes a big difference.  "We can hover above it and see exactly where the line went.  When the adjusters come we can show them the pictures, and away we go.  If I had this the last two years, I think I would have made a little more money on our hail insurance claims."



Gibb has found it to be a valuable tool and is looking to invest more money into the system. He is considering getting a camera capable of taking near infra red imagery.  "That way we can see the differences in the field on the canopy and which areas are creating more photosynthesis." Another upgrade that Gibb plans on will be a WiFi extender with a screen, "So I can watch in real time."  Currently Gibb downloads the information collected from the helicopter drone after it has done it's run.  "It would be good because I don't have to try figure out where in the field I was." Although the equipment he currently uses has limitations he is seeing that if he wants to continue with the technology it is getting more and more refined.  "I can see in the future as the technology gets developed a person flying over a field and getting really close up imagery, what problems are going on the leaves themselves."

Gibb did look into if he needed special permits. "Nothing that I have heard about in Canada.  I know that the US is a little more stringent on UAV laws, but I haven't heard of anything."  He approached it as a tool to help the farm, and admits that it is fun to use.  "The first couple of times was a little bit hairy.  Now I have about 20 hours of flying time on it.  It's as easy as driving a car, I guess."

Gibb Farms on Twitter: @rbgibbfarms

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