Drones are becoming increasingly popular, both recreationally and commercially, to include in the plant conservation mostly agricultural industry. The commercial agricultural drone market is currently worth $80 million, which is expected to grow to $110 million by 2022.
Even as the use of drones to save time and resources is becoming obvious to more and more people, farmers and scientists continue to discover new ways to integrate rotary and fixed-wing drones into day-to-day tasks.
The following are tasks that drones assist with:
- Crop Fertilization
- Soil health and Moisture Analysis
- Identifying Nitrogen Deficiencies
- Aid Pest Control
One of the most common ways that drones are being used in agriculture is to tend to crop fertilization. There are two drones that are used most often in agriculture to tend to crop fertilization/plant conservation. One is a rotary drone, which is easily identifiable by its rotors, and the other is a quadcopter, identified by its four propellers. Rotary drones can take off and land vertically, which means it can land virtually anywhere. The fixed-wing drone, with its fastened wings, is similar to miniature aircrafts that have one propeller, and therefore are able to stay in the air longer than a rotary drone.
The primary use of drones is to make routines more efficient, reduce waste, increase yield, and save money. Farmers are now able to create 3D maps of their fields and take care of plants on an individual basis.
Soil Health & Moisture Analysis
Plants need a lot of nutrients to survive and thrive and three of those essential nutrients that come from the soil are nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. Drones make it possible for farmers to analyze soil health at the beginning of the crop cycle, thus creating highly accurate 3D maps, which can pinpoint deficiencies and determine what type of fertilizer is needed for each plant. The drones also provide collected data to monitor nitrogen levels and gain insight into efficient irrigation management. These tasks save farmers both considerable time and money.
There are drone systems already that plant crop seeds at a much higher and faster rate than conventional methods. Unlike heavy machinery or people, flying robots can cover the most rugged landscapes in a matter of seconds and shoot pods filled with seeds and nutrients directly into the soil. This means they are able to plant seed at a rate of 120 pods per minute. This technology is used by some as a way to fight deforestation, whereas farmers are using drone systems to save time and money when planting and fertilizing seeds.
Identify Nitrogen Deficiencies
Drones are proving to be useful on farms for identifying nitrogen deficiencies on a plant-by-plant basis. This technology, which uses drones equipped with cameras and sensors, examines the leaves of crops for symptoms related to nitrogen deficiencies. This information is then fed into an algorithm that examines factors, such as weather and soil health, to determine the ideal amount of nitrogen fertilizer. It is only necessary to locate deficiencies in a single plant for the farmers to be certain when fertilization is necessary, which will reduce the amount of waste.
Aid Pest Control
Farmers are increasingly using drones as a method of early pest detection because these UAVS can effortlessly fly through fields to detect and treat pests. In fact, these drones can treat the pests with a dose of insecticide autonomously.
An electric bug “zapper,” suspended beneath the drone is another method of pesticide treatment being tested. This technology is primarily used at night, with infrared and thermal cameras detecting bugs and pests that may be gathering in large numbers.
Present & Future Benefits
Using drones during plant conservation has many advantages and yet another one, is addressing the undesirable effects of trampling and habitat disturbance. This is particularly important when the target species is located within a protected area where special care is required and drones can prevent the accidental trampling of the target species. This is a common negative impact when monitoring activities are carried out, or when the target species occurs with other endangered species.
It has become obvious to many that drones are the most efficient fertilizer sprayers on any farm. The relatively new drone-powered method uses ultrasonic echoing, lasers, light-detection, etc. to adapt to any landscape and effectively tend to crops. Because these drones are equipped with a 20-liter tank, they can scan the ground and spray the correct amount of liquid on only the necessary crops. The result is a more accurate and efficient fertilization process, with a reduction in the amount of overspray.