International Potato Technology Expo provides new solutions for farming issues

Lee Dodson, CEO of Skygate Drone Services, holds his drone equipped with a multispectral crop imaging sensor (green device at the bottom) at this year's International Potato Technology Expo.
Lee Dodson, CEO of Skygate Drone Services, holds his drone equipped with a multispectral crop imaging sensor (green device at the bottom) at this year's International Potato Technology Expo. - Terrence McEachern

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — Summerside's Lee Dodson believes he has found a technological way for farmers to have detailed knowledge of the health of their fields without stepping outside.

Dodson, CEO of Skygate Drone Services, was one of about 120 exhibitors at this year's International Potato Technology Expo at the Eastlink Centre on Friday and Saturday.

Dodson's company involves flying a drone equipped with a multispectral crop imaging sensor over a farmer's field to photograph and produce various computerized maps that show health issues and specific problem areas with a crop days or weeks before a farmer can detect them visually.

"So, the farmer can actually apply a solution, whether it is irrigation or fertalizer or pesticide. It is something they can address before the problem has actually caused permanent damage," he said.

The sensor technology uses the plant's chlorophyll to determine health as well as distinguishing between weeds and potato plants by the colour of their leaves. The sensor provides two-and-a-half centimetre accuracy about a plant's makeup from a drone flying 400 feet overhead, Dodson said.

Shawn White, the expo's show manager, said about 3,000 people were expected to attend the two-day event. Terrence McEachernShawn White, the expo's show manager, said about 3,000 people were expected to attend the two-day event. Terrence McEachern

To view and interpret the data from the sensor, farmers need to first suscribe to computer software, while Dodson flies the drone and provides the service for about $5 an acre.

"It's a specialist job. You've got to be a professional drone pilot to deliver this kind of service, and you've got to know what you're doing," he said.

Dodson adds that the service saves farmers from relying on walking up and down fields to inspect crops. And, in doing so, it saves them time and money.

Dodson has been flying drones for the past 20 years, including for the oil and gas industry as well as for agricultural anaylsis in Africa and Asia. But this is the first year he's providing the drone sensor service for farmers on the Island.

"I'm all about helping them understand the data as much as possible because I want them to have a better yield to more than cover the cost of having me deliver the service," he said.

This is the expo's 30th year. Show manager Shawn Murphy said he expected about 3,000 visitors to pass through the gates over the two-day event.

"It's really international. In the years to come, really what we're going to work on is getting people from even further away to know that P.E.I. is the capital for Canada for potatoes," he said.

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