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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..

Farmers across Wyoming are gearing up for spring planting, as warmer days and spring moisture point towards the beginning of the growing season. Prior to planting, however, producers should make sure their equipment is ready to go. 

“The biggest thing we have to remember as producers and equipment dealers is we don’t want to see equipment downtime,” says Brown Company Torrington Store Manager Charlie Harshberger. 

Proactive

“At Brown Company, we believe in preventative maintenance to minimize downtime during busy season,” says Harshberger. “We can prevent larger issues through preventive maintenance.” 

Altorfer, Inc., a Midwest Caterpillar equipment dealership, also recommends preventative measures to keep equipment in top shape.

“Regularly scheduled preventative maintenance programs can save a farming operation time and money, which helps producers maximize their revenue,” according to Altorfer. “Utilizing preventative measures can reduce the likelihood of failure and unexpected breakdowns, extend equipment life cycle and maximize value.” 

Brown Company in Torrington also offers a winter-fix program that allows producers to bring in their equipment to get a full inspection with maintenance recommendations. 

“We really recommend producers get into this program because it allows us to evaluate their equipment and start the process of repairs during the winter off-season,” says Harshberger. “Producers can do with the recommendations what they please. Some will elect to fix the issues themselves and leave others to us for repair.”

“Farmers need to view their heavy equipment like they do their vehicles,” Harshberger notes. “A truck has a recommended oil change of every 3,000 miles and most people follow that to a T. If we treat our equipment the same way, it will last longer and we will save money in the long-haul.” 

Equipment records 

Altorfer stresses the importance of utilizing accurate record keeping as a part of preparation for planting season.

The company also recommends producers utilize some sort of equipment management system to keep track of equipment needs. 

“Whether we use proprietary software or a simple Excel sheet, having a place to store and document equipment information is critical in staying organized,” says Altorfer. “Within these records, producers should inventory equipment and note any maintenance on the equipment.” 

“We need to take stock of how many pieces of equipment were owned and operated during planting and harvesting season,” says Altorfer. “Knowing our inventories helps us assess the size of the undertaking with pre-planting maintenance.”

Altorfer stresses the importance of recording past issues because it can assist in addressing issues in the future, should they arise. 

Preventative measures 

“As a part of preventative maintenance, producers should perform certain tasks each year to minimize equipment failures during busy times,” says Altorfer. 

“First, producers should do an initial scan of each piece of equipment,” according to Altorfer. “This will help identify immediate problems and give an idea of the needs of each piece.” 

Next, producers should attend to fluids and filters within the equipment, according to Altorfer. These fluids include hydraulic and coolant fluids, as well as the oil. They recommend consulting with local dealerships to determine which filters need to be replaced. 

“Producers should carefully inspect parts such as hoses, fittings and seals and replace worn out parts as soon as possible,” says Altorfer. 

Altorfer recommends ordering additional parts to have on hand for quicker replacements during busy season. 

“Tires and wheels should also be inspected and maintained regularly,” says Altorfer. “Make sure the wheel bearings are functioning properly and inflate tires to the correct pressure.” 

“Any good preventative maintenance program should include rust prevention,” according to Altorfer. “This means washing off equipment thoroughly after use and storing equipment in a dry place.” 

Altorfer also notes a coat of wax can be beneficial in preventing rust. 

“Above all producers should be diligent about wear and tear,” according to Altorfer. “Inspecting for wear and tear on a regular basis will prevent being blindsided when equipment malfunctions.”

Relationships make 

the difference 

“For me, we are not just a dealership, and our customers aren’t just a number,” says Harshberger. “When farmers are succeeding, we are succeeding.” 

“When we have good relationships with customers, we are better able to understand their operations and serve their needs accordingly,” Harshberger explains. 

“The last thing we want is to have people without functioning equipment when they need it most,” Harshberger says. “When a farmer is in the middle of baling hay and their equipment goes out, one good rain shower can ruin a hay crop.” 

He comments, “We are in it for the long haul to ensure our customers are able to succeed throughout their season and keep their equipment in top shape.”

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..