Drones are changing the way agriculture and farming are done. Agricultural drones are making a significant contribution to boosting crop intelligence as they help to achieve and improve what’s known as precision agriculture. This approach to farming management is based on observing, measuring, and taking action based on real-time crop and livestock data, which takes the guesswork out of modern farming and, instead, provides farmers with the ability to maximize their yields and run more efficient organizations, all while enhancing crop production.
This means many farms are more efficient and smaller operations which are able to compete with larger agricultural competitors.
This is another reason why farmers are increasingly turning to drones as their newest, most efficient tool in agriculture.
Drones have assisted both large and small farming operations primarily with water and disease management, but they are increasingly making a difference in better planting and crop rotation strategies as well. This leads to a higher degree of knowledge of how crops are progressing day-to-day in different parts of a given field. Furthermore, companies can now develop new revenue streams while attracting new investment.
Drones are equipped with technology, like propulsion systems, infrared cameras, GPS and navigation systems, programmable controllers, and automated flight planning. In addition, custom-made data processing software provides information that can instantly be used in making better management decisions.
Although large sensors and manned aircrafts were required to scan crop fields in the past, because of the rapidly advancing technology recently, this process now employs smaller, multispectral imaging sensors and UAVs. This reduces cost and provides a clearer understanding of crop health, which should make decision-making easier and more efficient.
GPS map creation provides farmers with a more accurate view of their property, and thus, a wiser plan as to where crops should be planted. By using UAVs, however, heavy items such as fertilizer or pesticides are done effortlessly at a reduced cost. The traditional approach is to personally operate a vehicle and lift items manually, or at least, by operating heavy machinery.
Thermal imaging makes it possible to monitor livestock and ascertain, with complete certainty, whether there are any missing, injured, or birthing animals in need.
The challenges to farmers are serious because there are a variety of complex factors that influence the success of their farms, such as water access, changing climate, wind, soil quality, the presence of weeds and insects, variable growing seasons, etc.
Agricultural drones allow farmers to obtain access to a wealth of data related to crop yields, livestock health, soil quality, nutrient measurements, weather and rainfall conditions, etc. This will enable farmers to get a more accurate understanding of any existing issues and use it to make better management decisions.
There are multiple uses for agricultural drones, including:
- Scouting land and crops
- Checking for weeds and spot treating plants
- Monitoring overall crop health
- Managing livestock and monitoring for health issues
High-tech, agricultural drones make it possible for farmers to increase efficiency in certain aspects of the farming process.
- Crop monitoring
- Livestock management
- Crop spraying
- Irrigation mapping
What has been, until recently, time-consuming and difficult tasks in agriculture, technology reduced and, in the case of some, eliminated, all while reducing costs.
Here are six common uses of agricultural drones:
- Soil and Field Analysis – During the entire crop cycle, drones can be used to help obtain useful data surrounding the quality of the existing soil and use 3D maps to show if there are any issues surrounding existing soil quality, nutrient manage- ment, or soil dead areas. This will help the farmers to determine the most effective patterns for planting, managing crops, and soil. Ongoing monitoring can also show how to better utilize water resources, and more effectively manage crop nutrient levels.
- Seed Planting – Manufacturers are using custom systems that have the ability to shoot seed pods into prepared soil. These drone technologies are assisting with a wide range of ecological and agricultural issues such as reforestation and replanting projects, which minimizes the need for on-the-ground planting, which can be costly, time-intensive, and strenuous work.
- Crop Spraying and Spot Spraying – Crops require consistent fertilization and spraying in order to maintain high yields. Drones can be equipped with large reservoirs, which can be filled with fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides to spray the crops. Drones can even be operated completely autonomously and programmed to run on specific schedules and routes.
- Crop Mapping and Surveying – One of the biggest advantages of using drone technology is the ease and effectiveness of large-scale crop and acreage monitoring, which helps farmers to more accurately determine crop planting locations. Drones can also obtain real-time footage and time-based animation, which can illuminate crop progression in real-time.
- Irrigation Monitoring and Management – Drones that are equipped with thermal cameras can spot irrigation issues, or areas that are receiving too little or excessive moisture and maximize drainage so it adheres to natural land runoff, and avoid water pooling, which can damage sensitive crops. With drone surveying, issues such as water and irrigation, can be spotted before they become troublesome.
- Real-Time Livestock Monitoring – Drones are equipped with thermal imaging cameras that can help a single pilot manage and monitor livestock, which allows farmers to keep track of livestock and predators, at a much greater frequency, and with less time and staff.
Present & Future Opportunities
In recent years, the cost of agricultural drones has rapidly declined, which has not only led to the explosion of drone use in agriculture, but it has also made it an attractive investment for modern farmers. In fact, the agricultural drone market is expected to grow over 38% in coming years.
Driven by growing population levels and changing climate patterns, the need for efficient agriculture is only going to become more important.
Like so many other industries, the agriculture industry is no stranger to embracing changing technological trends to streamline business. The use of drones in agriculture is the next technological wave that’ll help agricultural businesses meet the changing, challenging, and growing demands of the future.
By now, you can see there is already a wide range of varying drone applications currently in existence, and it is expected that current use of drones in agriculture will continue to evolve as the industry matures and new technology is introduced.
The future of this industry is in the hands of farmers and the drone operators they employ.
Whether we’ll be looking at fleets of autonomous drones, hybrid aerial and ground data collection fleets, or simply highly-trained individual pilots, the future for agricultural drone work is bright.