Production Blog

Droning On In the Cab

Pam Smith
By  Pam Smith , Crops Technology Editor
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Pete Pistorius has been documenting some of his planting through drone photos. The Blue Mound, Ill., farmer is trying to get his arms around what the new technology will bring. (Photo courtesy of Pete Pistorius)

ASSUMPTION, Ill. (DTN) -- Planting has gone about as well as Pete Pistorius can remember this spring. Several weeks of ideal weather have allowed the Blue Mound, Ill., farmer and his crews to get the bulk of the seed planted in timely fashion. Spring showers over the weekend relieved some of the soil crusting concerns. Life is good.

The favorable conditions have also allowed for a little training on the latest farm tool. Pistorius Farms is experimenting with a quad-copter-style drone. Pete, who farms with his father, Tim, and brother-in-law, Craig Paulek, wanted to be ahead of the curve on this technology, but they are also wading in carefully.

"We went simple and relatively inexpensive -- figuring we'd see what it could do for us and we'd get the feel for it before getting too carried away," said Pete, who estimates they've put about $3,000 into the drone, cameras and associated software.

So far, they've mostly captured photos of planting and concentrated on how to successfully land the craft. He thinks the drone will be especially useful for pest scouting. "It amazing how easy it is to fly," he said. An app allows him to see and maneuver the craft through his phone. Still photos and video are possible. Upgrading to infrared sensors and higher-tech applications will require more investment. "We want to learn how to use this one before crashing an expensive model," Pete said.

"We're really not sure all it can do, but it's fascinating stuff," he said. The FAA has generally considered farmers who use drones to monitor crop as hobbyists. However, a Wall Street Journal article Monday implied that FAA certification could be necessary down the road. See it here:…

We droned on about all sorts of technology changes down on the farm as we bounced along in the cab. Pete and I were classmates in the Illinois Agriculture Leadership Program a little more than a decade ago. That gives me an insider's edge when I want him to slow the tractor long enough to clamber aboard. It also helped that I came to the field toting homemade blackberry pie (still warm from the oven) and ice cream.

It occurred to me during our visit that pie calories could be tough to work off in the future with a drone doing all the field scouting. Then, I happened to look down at the new piece of technology I recently purchased. A little bracelet I wear upon my wrist counts the steps I've taken each day and gives warning when I've been sitting behind the desk too long.

I was stunned to see that bumping along in the tractor buddy seat actually deducted steps from my daily goal. Whew... life is too short to not have pie.

Pamela Smith can be reached at



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