New Brunswick

McCain Foods seeks to improve farming with drone technology

McCain Foods and Resson Aerospace of Fredericton are using drone technology for what they hope will be the biggest innovation in farming in decades.

Resson Aerospace's technology allows information about plants to be captured from the air

Potato drones

8 years ago
Duration 2:30
McCain Foods turns turns to drone technology to improve potato farming.

McCain Foods and Resson Aerospace of Fredericton are using drone technology for what they hope will be the biggest innovation in farming in decades.

The drones are being flown over potato fields to collect information that can help farmers reduce spraying and increase yields.

Engineer Rishin Behl of Resson Aerospace says drones can be used to capture much information about the potato plants in a field. (CBC)
"We put all this data into once container that our super computer can crunch," said Rishin Behl, the engineer behind the software

"Layers and layers of data capture everything, from the effects of wind and weather, to infra-red measurements and logistical information."

Resson Aerospace of Fredericton is one of the companies working with McCain on the project.

"With the technology today, with 3G networks, cloud computing and the affordability and availability of platforms like drones or UAVs, you can capture a lot of data and package this data into a system that can give the operator information on crop health that will help them optimize their production," said Peter Goggin, the CEO of Resson Aerospace.

Dave Rogers thinks drone technology can help farmers work smarter instead of harder. (CBC)
Dave Rogers, the director of global process at McCain Foods, believes drone technology holds the potential to revolutionize farming.

"If you look at it, back in the early thirties I believe it was the three-point hitch that helped to revolutionize farming," said Rogers. "What we're doing here today probably has a similar impact because we're looking to work smarter and not harder at farming."

Rishin Behl, the engineer behind the Resson's software, calls it "data-driven agriculture."

"You can actually count each plant that is on the field," said Behl.

"Instead of spraying the whole farm, you can spray in spots and you decrease environmental damage while actually increasing yields, so this is a win-win for both sides.

Drones can be used to capture images of individual potato plants from hundreds of feet in the air. (Courtesy Resson Aerospace)
"The kind of massive large scale computing algorithms that we use are unique to Canada and not only to Canada but to the world."

The provincial government is giving McCain $5-million in research and development funding over five years to help with the drone technology project and other initiatives. McCain is providing matching funding.

Yves Leclerc, McCain's director of agronomy for North America, says the company is looking for ways to remain competitive in the potato market.

"Our land is fairly hilly and we've cropped potatoes for a number o fyears, so we see that there are some issues that need to be corrected," he said.

Leclerc is also convinced drones will soon become a common farming tool.

"It's going to totally revolutionize the world of agriculture and the way we grow potatoes."