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Supporting boots on the ground with an eye in the sky

Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Association looks to complement its 
Green Gold central testing program with drone data

After 20 years of relying on clipping samples for its Green Gold program, Manitoba Forage and Grasslands Association (MFGA) is bringing in the air force.

It’s recently begun investigating the addition of drone imagery to predict the optimum window to harvest alfalfa.

“We are continuing to grow our Green Gold program in all ways possible,” said John McGregor, MFGA’s hay expert and Green Gold program manager. “We’ve been providing the Green Gold program for more than 20 years and have a solid base of producers that relies upon our information to first cut their alfalfa crops when the Relative Feed Value (RFV) is at the highest percentages, which means higher-quality feed for livestock.”

The Green Gold program is currently based around clipping samples that are taken every Monday and Thursday and tested at Central Testing Laboratories to determine the RFV.

MFGA aims to pinpoint the ideal RFV of 150. This year ‘hay day’ was calculated to be May 30, where it was estimated that alfalfa reached an RFV of 170.

Regional results are emailed to subscribers twice a week and currently more than 500 industry members in Manitoba receive these updates.

Duncan Morrison, MFGA executive director, says this year the organization has taken steps to add further value to the prediction system by enhancing the program with some newly emerged technology.

“This is an opportunity to complement our existing program with some new technology that may give us more insight into the best cutting time,” Morrison said. “We can’t and wouldn’t want to replace the central testing component. That is the backbone of this program. Our goal is simply looking at adding this new technology to make the program stronger so that alfalfa producers can use this tool and get the best bang for their buck.”

MFGA has partnered with M3 Aerial Productions to explore the addition of a data from drone imagery.

“There are valuable applications for UAVs in the agriculture industry,” said Matthew Johnson, owner of M3 Aerial Productions. “This technology can help farmers to grow better crops and save money in the process. With the Alfalfa Green Gold project, these drone images are being collected to provide an extra layer of support in helping identify when the perfect time to cut is.”

The partnership between MFGA and M3 Aerial will allow clippings to be cross-referenced with NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) data for any possible correlations.

In the initial year of the partnership, M3 Aerial has focused on gathering data from an alfalfa field near New Bothwell, Man., flying on the same day clippings are gathered.

“We are currently looking at a couple of fields in southern Manitoba with this program and will look to expand to the other growing regions of Manitoba next year,” Johnson said. “This year we have simply been conducting flights on the same day the clippings are being made but have yet to start correlating the data. Once we examine the data we will really be able to determine how much value this will add to the program.”

M3 Aerial has been using its five-foot-wide, fixed-wing AgEagle RX60 UAV, which is capable of mapping a section of farmland in about an hour.

Over the off-season the two organizations will confer over the results to determine the best route forward in synchronizing the data in order to provide the best information for Manitoba alfalfa producers.

“It looks like there is a strong harmony between the eye in the sky and the boots on the ground, and we are excited to examine that relationship further to see if there could be an added benefit to having this additional data,” Morrison said.

Click here for video of the M3 Green Gold Alfalfa flight from May 29. For more information on the Green Gold program visit the MFGA website.

 

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Paige is a reporter centred in southwestern Manitoba. She previously wrote for the agriculture-based magazine publisher, Issues Ink and was the sole-reporter at the Minnedosa Tribune for two years prior to joining the Manitoba Co-operator.

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