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Equipment

A robotic aircraft manufacturer called AgEagle designed an unmanned aerial vehicle aircraft to help producers increase their crop yields by gathering field photos and data. 

The aircraft is equipped with cameras, sensors and software to capture the field images and then creates a map to show where the crops in the field are the healthiest and the weakest. 

The collected information is then integrated into modern precision farming practices and helps producers know where to apply the necessary material or chemical to help grow the weak plants. 

“Growers and farmers can apply the necessary materials to where it is needed on the weakest plants, thus reducing the amount of required chemicals and materials and increase their crop yields,” explains AgEagle Founder Bret Chilcott.

AgEagle

“Our core competency is to build things that fly and are very robust for the ag industry,” comments Chilcott. “We don’t make anything for any other industry, just the agricultural sector.” 

He further adds, “Our system is referred to as the flying tractor of the robotic aircraft industry for ag.” 

Any sensor or camera can be used with AgEagle, regardless if it’s a thermal or infrared camera. The aircraft is also equipped to take still or continuous photos, as well as videos of fields.  

“This aircraft can be a huge opportunity for growers to reduce their input costs and increase their crop yields,” says Chilcott. 

Chilcott gives the example of corn producers being able to detect diseases in their fields from the aerial photographs, from the differential in color of the corn, before it is detectable on the ground. 

“Our system is built for agricultural work from the ground up,” describes Chilcott.

Idea

The idea of AgEagle started as a research project at Kansas State University (KSU). 

“At the time we learned about AgEagle, we were manufacturing fiberglass and composite parts. We volunteered to make the aircrafts airframe for KSU,” states Chilcott. “From this project with KSU, we learned this precision technology is going to be very big. That’s when we turned our entire focus to the AgEagle.”

He adds, “We developed the proprietary flying wing, a launcher and the software to go along with the aircraft. It’s a complete turnkey package.”

The images captured by the AgEagle are processed by its software and then put into a prescription map. The map can then be loaded into a chemical applicator and directed by a global positioning system (GPS). The map directs and controls the applicator’s spray nozzles and indicates where to apply the chemical. 

Producers have used AgEagle to scan and evaluate their sugarbeets, sugar cane, wheat, alfalfa, almond trees, cotton, corn and soybean fields, as well as vineyards. 

Built 

The AgEagle’s airframe is constructed out of hardened fiberglass and carbon fiber with Kevlar and additional carbon fiber for its leading edges to make sure the aircraft will be very tough and stout. Chilcott notes AgEagle was designed and built to be a tool, not a toy. 

“The aircraft is able to launch, fly, scan and land by itself, as well as do all of those things in about any weather conditions,” comments Chilcott. “The AgEagle also performs exceptionally well in 35 mile-per-hour winds.” 

The cost of the robotic aircraft is slightly under $13,000 for the complete package of aircraft, camera and software. 

The AgEagle can scan one square mile in approximately 30 minutes and is powered by two Lithium Ion four-cell batteries. Approximately 15 days is needed to manufacture one complete aircraft. The aircrafts are being sent to retail customers and dealers all over the world. 

“Our biggest challenge is fulfilling our demand and delivering them to our customers,” says Chilcott. “We have quite the backlog.”

Customers

“Most of our customers are from the younger generation and understand precision agriculture,” comments Chilcott. “This new technology of AgEagle has been compared to the computer industry back in the late 1970s.”

“Very few of our competitors have agricultural backgrounds, and we understand what farmers and growers need and want,” describes Chilcott. “Our focus is to make a valuable product for our customers. There aren’t a lot of bells and whistles on our product, and it is designed to do one thing – to help the farmer and grower to be more profitable.”

Chilcott mentions most of their customers travel to southeast Kansas to Neodesha to train on how to use the AgEagle aircraft. 

“We cover everything from flight safety to camera operation and how to operate the software that processes the images,” he explains. 

AgEagle dealers can also provide training, sales support and customer service to their clients. 

The majority of AgEagle’s dealers are located in the Corn Belt in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska and Ohio. They are also found globally in Australia, Brazil, Chile and will soon be arriving in Europe.   

Madeline Robinson is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


SIDEBAR:
Future models

Currently AgEagle is conducting a research project for cattle producers to be able to use the robotic aircraft to track and find livestock. The product is projected to be available on the market in six months. 

“Cattle producers will be able to use our aircraft to detect active radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for up to 2.5 miles,” says Bret Chilcott, founder of AgEagle. “The AgEagle will be able to help producers locate their animals and check on their health.” 

Chilcott further notes the AgEagle can be used to determine if animals are off by themselves giving birth or are dead. The aircraft will be able to maneuver around one specific animal and capture photographs of the animal. 

AgEagle is also developing smaller and larger aircraft models. 

“We have a larger design of the aircraft being developed to complete longer missions and be more suitable to fly over large rangelands to look for animals,” describes Chilcott.

The AgEagle Company is also creating a helicopter model, called a multicopter, that is able to have vertical takeoffs and landings.

 

Jackson – “The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) is 160 years old and the largest railroad in North America by volume,” stated Brett Porter of BNSF in an Oct. 8 company update presented in Jackson at the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority’s fall meeting.

With 32,000 route-miles and 8,000 locomotives, BNSF serves 28 states and three Canadian provinces.

“We serve 40 ports, so we have very good access to international markets, and we have invested $52 billion since 2000 in our infrastructure,” Porter added.

Inside Wyoming

In Wyoming, BNSF employs nearly 1,400 people with a payroll of $108 million.

“We are pivotal to the Wyoming economy, and Wyoming is very important to us. We also see a significant investment around rail from our customers. They have spent around $200 million since 2012 on construction jobs and jobs downstream,” he explained.

The top moving product in the state is coal, with 1.7 million carloads shipped last year. Approximately 42,000 carloads carried industrial cargo, including crude oil.

“BNSF is the largest mover of coal in the United States,” remarked Porter, stating that the company shipped nearly 270 million tons last year.

“We moved about 62 percent of the Powder River Basin Coal that was shipped,” he added.

Overall, about 22 percent of BNSF business is related to the shipment of coal.

“It’s a core part of our business. About one in 10 homes are powered by BNSF with Powder River Basin coal,” stated Porter.

Other products

Industrial products are also a large component of BNSF’s business, including building products, tank cars, refrigerated products, steel cars and crude oil.

“We have seven crude facilities in Wyoming,” noted Porter.

Agriculture represents a smaller portion of the company’s business, but it continues to grow.

The agricultural sector of BNSF includes fertilizer, grain, ethanol and other agricultural products, contributing to approximately 10 percent of the company’s business.

“We move enough fertilizer to fertilize a field the size of Kansas every year, and we move enough grain to feed 900 million people for all of their bread requirements for the year,” Porter said.

“We are blessed by our franchise, and we are blessed that the American farmer continues to become more and more productive each year,” he remarked.

Increases

As yields increase, so do the number of carloads transported by rail.

“The Pacific Basin consumer continues to want more protein. As their standard of living goes up, we see big growth in ag,” Porter continued.

Overall, BNSF business remained relatively flat throughout the first half of 2015, with the largest percentage of shipments pertaining to consumer products.

Porter predicted that consumer products will continue to increase, stating, “The average over-the-road truck driver is now 57 years old, and there are more regulatory challenges for truckers. The trucking companies are reaching out to us, and our industry only has about 15 percent of that business.”

Porter noted that the company continues to invest in improvements and infrastructure, quoting $1.4 billion a year devoted to new locomotives and equipment.

“We also spend $1.5 billion on expansion and efficiency,” he said.

BNSF invests $3 billion every year to maintain current rail and equipment, as well.

“We are committed to growing our business,” remarked Porter.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Casper – “A lot of our machines and equipment are out in the field where they’re not easily accessible, so it’s even more important to maintain those machines, as getting someone out to it can be difficult,” said Rob Davis with Wyoming Machinery Company.

Davis discussed the importance of machine maintenance and contamination control, particularly in newer machine systems.

Changing demands

According to Davis, contamination control has become even more of a priority in recent years as greater demands are placed on machinery.

“Our customers are demanding more out of their machines – more power, greater breakout forces and quicker cycle times,” he said.

He also explained that there has been a transition to the use of electrohydraulics.

“With those components, we have higher system pressures and tighter clearances, so particles that get by in the oil past the filters are destroying the components and the machine in the long run,” commented Davis.

Davis continued, “Today’s fluid systems are more sensitive to contamination. All of the systems are working under tremendous pressures today compared to what they were 40 years ago.”

Contamination

Davis explained that contamination is “anything in the fluid that does not belong,” such as sand, heat, water, air and metals.

Contamination can originate from a wide variety of sources, he continued.

“Some sources include built-in contamination, new fluids, introduced contamination, such as cylinder wiper seals or reservoir vent ports, and poor maintenance,” he said.

Davis noted that current systems are able to filter fuel down to particles two microns in size in some machines.

To put that in perspective, he commented, “A human hair is 80 microns in diameter and a grain of table salt is 100 microns.”

In the Fuel Analysis Laboratory, Davis explained that the company is able to monitor contamination and identify contaminants in Caterpillar equipment fluids.

“Spectrograph analysis identifies elements in the oil up to 10 to 15 microns in size,” he said.

A very small amount of a contaminant can mean fluids won’t don’t pass inspection in the laboratory.

“It only takes half a teaspoon of dirt. A ground up aspirin is enough to destroy a 55-gallon drum of oil,” stressed Davis.

Impacts

According to Davis, 70 to 85 percent of all hydraulic failures are due to contamination, and he explained, in today’s systems, failures often require replacement of the whole system, rather than a component.

“The primary pumps we use today are variable piston pumps,” he said. “That piston works in a sleeve. We can’t even feel the clearance when it’s cold. When it warms up, it’s even tighter yet.”

Davis noted that the effects of contamination may include erratic steering, cylinder drift, slower performance, unreliable operation, lower productivity, machine down time and higher operating costs.

“None of that is anything that we need in our day-to-day work,” he stressed.

Davis continued, “Taking and testing fluid samples at the Fluid Analysis Lab can head off a catastrophic failure, catching things early, so we can repair, as opposed to replace, parts.”

Management

To limit contamination and detrimental impacts, Davis encouraged equipment users to improve their housekeeping skills, including sweeping floors daily, cleaning up spills immediately, keeping workbenches uncluttered and free of debris and limiting use of floor storage.

Davis advised filters be changed carefully, adding that it is important to not fill fuel filters.

“When we dump fuel down the center of that fuel filter, we are already downstream of the plates,” he said. “What we put in there is going right into our injectors.”

Special care should also be taken with parts handling and storage and hose assembly and storage.

“To clean those hoses, we’ve got plugs we can force through them with air and it cleans all of the contamination out of them,” Davis commented. “If we cap them and seal them, they’re ready for reuse again.”

Proper maintenance and timely repair is critical to reducing contamination and elongating machine lifespan.

“We must perform daily inspections, keep the hydraulic tank filled, maintain valves, use rod protectors and watch temperature gauges,” Davis concluded. “We want to get all of our money back out of our machine.”

Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Alcova – A June 3 letter from the Wyoming Department of Transportation informed the Natrona County Commissioners that Alcova Bridge was in severe need of repairs and that the structure’s severe substructure deterioration meant that the bridge should be posted as having a three-ton limit.

Peg Price of Miles Land and Livestock Co. comments, There has been a weight restriction of 6,000 pounds posted on the bridge. That presents a major problem for the people living and working on the south side of the river.”

Price and other ranchers cited concerns ranging from transportation to work and school to shipping hay and cattle as reasons for their concern over the dramatically reduced weight limits on the bridge.

Forrest Chadwick, chairman of the Natrona County Commission, and his fellow commissioners have been working diligently since the notice of the weight reduction was sent out to find a solution to the current problem.

“We’ve got emergency access up and over the spillway bridge, but that is limited to 25 tons,” Chadwick says. “Just this week, on June 23, we approved to move forward with the selection of an engineer and the selection of repairs.”

Looking back

The Alcova Bridge was built in 1953 by the Bureau of Reclamation (BuRec). It was turned over to the county shortly after.

“When it was brand new, its highest rating was 29 tons,” Chadwick explains. “There have been 40 ton loads going over that bridge since it was built.”

Chadwick also explains that the bridge is wooden, and continued exposure to alternating water and oxygen have resulted in dramatic deterioration of the structure of the bridge.

“It was downgraded in 2010 to 10 tons, and that was the last inspection until now,” he says. “The bridge was inspected last October, and we just got the written report on June 5. It was written on June 3.”

Options for ranchers

Understanding the gravity of the implications of a decrease in the weight rating of the bridge, Chadwick notes that the Natrona County Commission has been exploring a wide array of options to provide an outlet for farmers and ranchers.

“We have explored many options,” Chadwick says. “We looked at bringing in a temporary bridge, but with maintenance and cost, it is very expensive. That is not a very viable option.”

There have also been discussions about alternative routes, including over the spillway or through Fremont Canyon, but they all come with challenges.

“The spillway bridge is limited to 25 tons, and if anything more goes over that, it may warp the spillway gates so they wouldn’t open and shut,” Chadwick explains. “We are being very careful.”

While the county and BuRec have both exceeded the weights on the bridge in the past, Chadwick notes that all parties recognize that should not have happened and they are making absolutely sure it doesn’t happen again.

Jamie Harkins of Track A Land and Cattle Company commets, “The two roads to get around are not good. The bridge across Fremont Canyon is only rated at 10 tons, and there is a 90-degree corner. It also adds time and miles.”

With limited options for a viable alternative, Commissioners are working to build a new bridge as soon as possible.

Fixing the problem

Chadwick mentions that they will work on developing a temporary fix while also exploring options to build a new bridge.

“After we hire the engineers, they will look at the bridge and give us an assessment to see if there is any wood below the waterline that is good,” he says. “They will also look at how high up on each pile they have to go to find good wood to make temporary repairs.”

He notes that the evaluations will begin within the week the engineers are hired, and temporary fixes will be deployed soon after, but water flow is a big issue.

“It depends on waterflow, because flows of 2,300-2,400 cubic feet per second, as are often seen when they turn the irrigation water on, makes it much more difficult to affect repairs,” Chadwick mentions.

At the same time that they are working on a temporary fix, the Commission is looking toward a long-term solution for a bridge rated at 40 tons that will last a long time.

Economic impacts

Ranchers in the area are still very concerned about the potential impacts of not being able to utilize the bridge during their vital haying and shipping seasons.

The Wyoming Stock Growers Association, who was contacted by Natrona County ranchers, says, “Many of the area ranching operations span both sides of the river. It is critical to their operations that they are able to transport loads of cattle and feed on this route. The inability to ship load cattle on the south side in the fall and reach truck scales in a timely manner will have a significant cost to these producers.”

Price says that ranchers work through the entirety of the year for only one paycheck, and if they are unable to sell their cattle efficiently to avoid shrink, they see fewer dollars at the market.

Harkins comments, “We have a farm on Highway 220 and live up at Canyon Creek. In the summer, we use the bridge every day to check pivots and move equipment back and forth.”

In addition, Track A Land and Cattle uses the bridge to haul hay out after harvest and to move cattle.

“I am really concerned about shipping season. How are we going to get shipped out this fall? It is more than a major inconvenience for us. There really isn’t an adequate alternate route when it comes to shipping time,” Harkins continues, noting that they require the income for survival.

“There are a bunch of people who live up there, and many of them commute to town five days a week,” she notes. “We all use that bridge.”

“We appreciate that the Commissioners are working to move quickly on this, but we wish that the Commissioners would have considered the needs of the community in 2010 when the bridge was downgraded to 10 tons, or back in 1997 when significant deterioration was noted,” Harkins says. “It should have been fairly obvious, knowing the type of traffic from both the community and the county that the bridge gets that this was a problem. The 10-ton downgrade should have been a major red flag.”

Other impacts

In addition to ranching interests, Price cites school and recreation as taking a hit as a result of the bridge weight rate reduction.

“The school is on the south side of the river and the majority of students are on the north side, but the bus can no longer cross the bridge to deliver students to school,” Price says.

She adds that recreationists who typically use the bridge for access to Alcova Reservoir, Miracle Mile and Seminoe for camping and fishing are also being impacted.

“People coming into the Alcova area to hunt and fish are crucial to the economy and businesses in our tiny community,” Price says.

WSGA further notes, “We urge the Commission act immediately to address the emergency need for a temporary means of access across the river at this location.”

Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Stock trailers are tools, explains University of Tennessee Emeritus Professor Clyde Lane in a Drovers CattleNetwork web video.

“We use them for a very important purpose – getting animals from point A to point B, whether it’s to market or to another pasture,” Lane says.

Regular maintenance

Like any tool, stock trailers require proper care and maintenance to maintain longevity and ensure safety.

“We want to follow our Beef Quality Assurance (BQA) guidelines, so we don’t injure the animals or get injured ourselves, and also so we put out a good image to the public,” he notes.

When cattle are moved along the roads, they are visible to the public, and it’s important to portray a positive image about how the cattle are being treated.

“We don’t use these trailers every day,” Lane remarks. “We use our trailer, park it, and the next time we need it we go hook up to it, use it and park it again. We don’t really take care of the maintenance that is required.”

Potential issues

One maintenance routine that may be overlooked, for example, is inspecting the wheels and tires.

“The tires get old. They may get cracked or we may not have enough air pressure in them,” Lane comments.

Problems with the floor of the trailer are also a possibility, especially in steel trailers with wooden floors.

“There are a lot of little things we can take care of from a maintenance standpoint that make the whole program go so much better,” he states.

Accessible parts

Keeping trailers well maintained can reduce stress for both people and animals. Problems that occur with a full load can put producers and livestock in a difficult situation.

“I have never seen an accident or breakdown not happen at the most inopportune time,” Lane says.

Keeping spare parts accessible is also beneficial if a problem occurs with a trailer full of cattle.

“A lot of goosenecks store the spare up in the neck, which is a good and safe place to keep it, but if we are fully loaded and we get a flat, we have get into that trailer with those cattle and get the tire out – and it’s going to be heavy,” he explains.

Attitude

Lane also warns that poor planning can affect a driver’s mood, which can adversely affect the livestock.

“Attitude means a lot when we are driving because we will drive at a much safer pace,” he notes. “We shouldn’t take the cattle out for a drive right after we’ve had a fight with our wife. That’s just not a good time to do it.”

Drivers who haven’t been irritated by maintenance issues or other problems are more likely to take turns a little smoother, slow down a less abruptly and speed up a little easier. That gives animals a chance to be a little more stable when moving from point A to point B.

Remembering to keep up on the care and maintenance of stock trailers will benefit producers and their livestock when it comes time to move animals.

“I think we all want to and I think we will take care of our trailers, but it’s easy to put it off when we’re not using that piece of equipment every day,” says Lane.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..