Aerial Farming With GoPro and DJI Phantom 2


Phantom 2 Vision (Photo credit: echeng)

I’ve been talking about unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for several weeks now, but now I finally have my very own DJI Phantom 2.  I’m writing this post on a Saturday, and I’ve had the UAV and related gear in my possession since this past Tuesday.  I’ve never been great with RC stuff, and flying is the worst.  But I’m already flying pretty well with my Phantom because of all the tech built into the UAV.  With a compass and GPS on board this thing is super stable.  If I get in trouble I just take my hands off the controls and it sits still wherever it may be.  If I have trouble getting it back, have a low battery, or lose connection it will come right back and land from wherever it launched because the GPS locks in the starting position.  I can also just flip a fail safe switch or turn of the radio and the ship will come home.  And with live video feed being transmitted from my GoPro Hero3+ Black Edition I can see whatever the camera is seeing which allows me to fly far beyond line of sight.  Trust me, line of sight is not very far!  This feature also allows me to pick up flying easily because it’s like a video game for me, and I’ve spent quite a few hours with a controller in my hands.

Farm Uses for UAV

AgNerd Pickup Truck via thefarmerslife.comThere are many uses for UAVs in agriculture.  On our farm I’m going to be scouting our crops while they are growing.  It’s really hard to beat a view from the sky because I literally have a different perspective of my fields.  When walking fields looking for weeds, pests, or disease I can only take in so much from ground level.  Being above the corn and soybeans will give me the ability to see the extent of various problems and help me make better decisions on how to deal with them.  Please check out my article on CNN’s Eatocracy for several more ideas for UAV use in agriculture.

What Have I Done with My UAV So Far?

DJI Phantom 2 via thefarmerslife.comI’d be lying if I said this stuff wasn’t a ton of fun, and I’m probably going to be mostly having fun and learning for a while.  It’s winter so we only have some dormant cover crops and wheat right now.  Once planting season is over I’d like to come up with some kind of schedule for flying over each of our fields on a regular basis.  I actually think we should be walking our fields more often than we have been.  Summer is hot and humid, and even farmers don’t always get a kick out of walking their fields.  This Phantom 2 and associated payload will probably actually get boots on the ground more often because if I find a problem we’ll need to go check it out on foot anyway.  But in the short week I’ve had this stuff I’ve learned a lot about what I should and should not be doing.
For example, I can land on our deck though I definitely won’t be taking off from there again soon.  I just about took off right into the second story overhang.  I’ve taken some really cool pictures from near our house and over a field.  I’ve made a couple of YouTube videos already, and I know there will be more really awesome footage once tractors start rolling again.  Just wait.  It’s gonna be great!

Here are a few examples of what I’ve done already.  Please enjoy them, and be sure to stick around for much, much more on this subject!  I should also give a shout out to Chad Colby for helping me get started and Aerial Media Pros for putting together the great kit I bought.

DJI Phantom 2 with GoPro via thefarmerslife.comAfter two days of flying with no payload so I could get my feet wet I hung the gimbal and camera and explored my immediate area.  I’m flying forward full speed here which is why the two front arms and propellers can be seen.  The red LED lights indicate the front of the ship.

Farm Drainage Aerial View via the farmerslife.comToday I ventured out to the field we installed all that new drainage in this fall.  The wider dark path all the left side laterals run to is the main line we installed last year.  I retraced it this year the chisel plow so it could easily be found.  A shorter main connecting the 9 laterals on the right was a decision we made because the big main follows the path of a large county tile.  Rather than mess with trying to miss (aka cut and repair) the county tile we just opted to put in a short main of our own on the other side for those 9 lines.  They can’t be seen now, but there are more laterals entering the longer main that were installed last year.

This video begins where our two mains and the county line dump into an open ditch.  From there I fly out over the whole installation.  The tilled patch at the far end has new laterals as well.  We made a lot of tracks there digging up and removing rocks so we worked that area with the chisel plow between the new lines.

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    1. Yes, Robert. It has already melted since I took that picture. It’s actually a lake, but it’s a man made by damming a river.

  1. Wow, amazing. I want one! I can’t wait until drones are so advanced, they can fit us on there! I watched the movie Oblivion recently, and I spent the entire movie daydreaming about having his aerial vehicle. Hopefully, we’re not more than a decade or two away… 🙂

    1. Hey, Fourat! How have you been? It’s going to be very exciting over the next year to see what I learn and what more I can do with this thing.

  2. Thanks for the videos,,,,

    What are the possibilities of using this platform to use with a camera with trucolor and infrared? What about getting georeferenced imagery? When that is affordable and doable in an afternoon I will bite!

    1. That’s all possible and I plan on doing those things as long as they aren’t cost prohibitive. I’ll probably have a fixed wing UAV for those missions. Fixed wings can fly farther and faster than copters can.

  3. Sounds interesting for sure,,,my dilemma is finding AFFORDABLE software that is plug and play, ie I want to FLY, LAND, upload imagery, georeference, make my zones, download my zones/shapefiles/xml app file,,(whatever) all in the smae day….I dont want to email anything and wait on somebody else.

    When that day happens I am in,,until then I wait

    1. Stay tuned then. You can already do all that, but I think it’s about to get better, easier, and cheaper.

  4. What sort of range can you get and still have live feed with this setup? can you control all the gopros functions from the 7″ screen? do you still get live feed if youre filming in protune on gopro?

    1. Half mile seems to be about the limit for video. I don’t have any control over the camera except to change the angle via the gimbal. I pick a setting and hit record before I take off. That means either video or time lapse for stills. The wifi controls via the remote or app won’t work. The signal screws up the Phantom.

        1. I do not, but I generally do have some static I’d like to clear up. I’m told the cover leaf style may be better.

    1. Good to know! I’m very interested in your product. Are we at a point now where I could fly a corn field one day, and sidedress nitrogen variable rate with a prescription created from imagery the next? I’d be very interested in that, especially if I can do it all myself. We have an anhydrous bar on order now that we’ll equip to properly do VRT and section control.

  5. You can get far greater range for both video and radio control with aftermarket parts like the 600mw ImmersionRC 5.8Ghz video transmitter ($~90) and a modded Turnigy 9x radio with Frsky modules. Check out for a ton of great info on the Phantom line of quads.

  6. Just cool stuff you guys are doing 🙂 Just got my phantom H3-3d gimbal and hero 3+ black, and 5.8Ghz FPV. still learning one soft crash in 7 flights and still learning 🙂

  7. Now that you have had the Phantom for a few months, what real applications has it helped you with? I’m interested in getting one to help inspect crops/irrigation systems, but I want a ballpark ROI to justify buying. Does it just provide interesting photo/video or has it changed the way you manage your fields?

  8. I live in Hampshire and I’m an authorised retailer of the DJI Phantom range. I know a few farmers and I’m carrying out some flight tests over 64 acres of wheat stubble this weekend. I’d be happy to answer any questions farmers may have about how these devices could be of use to them. Demo flights may also be possible. No obligation to buy. Feel free to get in touch.

  9. My company YaTi Co just launched as a West Texas based UAV/Drone Specialist for Farming/Ranching/ & Oil Field. Our website just went live a few hours ago but still requires a lot of work. We are composed of several part time engineers from big name universities. Texas Tech, UT, and A&M working together to interface technology with the modern day farmer/rancher/entrepreneur. Visit us on facebook or at (not .COM, .CO is the new mobile web standard)

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