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How Farmers Are Using Drones To Keep Crops Healthy And Increase Profits

A drone flown by Skycision hovers above a vineyard.

A Pittsburgh-based tech company is using drones and infrared technology to help diagnose diseases and pests in their crops before it's too late.

Skycision's goal is to help farmers improve their profitability, according to CEO and co-founder Brendan Carroll. A drone pilot goes on site to the farm, snaps hundreds or thousands of images in infrared, and then creates a highly detailed map with the photos. The special infrared sensors can detect the amount of chlorophyll in plants.

"So if there is a pest or disease afflicting the crops, we'll actually see chlorophyll levels drop," Carroll said. "So in addition to the high resolution map, we give them a stress map ... of spots that are good, bad and the rate of change since the last time we flew."

Skycision has a doctor of plant medicine in house to diagnose the problem in each case and prescribe a treatment plan.

Carroll said Skycision's tech could hypothetically work for any crop, but right now they're focused on working with high-end crops that yield higher financial returns per acre, such as grapes for wine and strawberries.

"Because those specialty crops are much more susceptible to weather fluctuations and climate change, they have a greater need for our service at this point," he said.