From manually checking plants for signs of infestation to integrating crop-based sensors, there is no denying that farming methods have dramatically evolved over the past few decades. But despite the important role technology plays in terms of increasing productivity, some agricultural data cannot simply be seen by the naked eye.
Factors like nitrogen deficiency and bacterial or fungal infection cannot be easily traced even by experienced farmers, making it necessary for the agricultural industry to find tangible ways to gather real-time data and find solutions for problems relating to crop production. The good news is, advancements in drone technology offer the agricultural sector a chance for a bigger and a brighter future.
Thanks to unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, problems with farm crops can be detected at an early phase. While drones may be most popularly used for military purposes in the earlier years, companies are now creating new operating models in response to the ever-changing needs of industries, including agriculture.
Let’s Take a Look at the Statistics
According to data, the global population is expected to grow to up to 9.1 billion by the year 2050. Consequently, food production should increase by around 70% during the same timeframe. Otherwise, problems with food shortage can grow bigger in both developed and developing nations.
As a response, world leaders and governments are working in collaboration with the agricultural industry to increase farming efficiency, and the use of drones for agricultural purposes is a part of the equation.
In fact, last year, changes have been made to the federal rules and regulations governing the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Aside from this, special permits were granted to some agricultural operators.
Once the use of drones is embraced by the agricultural industry, not only will the economy benefit, but the individual farmers as well. Based on American Farm Bureau Federation’s estimation, the return on investment for farmers can reach up to 2-3 USD per an acre of wheat and soybeans and 12 USD per an acre of corn.
You may also want to read: Trends in Farming Automation Technology
The Potential Use of Drones in Agriculture
Contrary to popular belief, the use of UAV does not stop at sprinkling fertilizers
over food crops. In fact, drone technology can revolutionize farming methods, especially since UAVs can help gather real-time data. As a guide, below are some of the most important uses of drones during crop production:
- Soil Analysis: Soil and field analysis is crucial in planning patterns for planting seeds. By evaluating the overall condition of the soil, farmers can increase productivity and profitability. Fortunately, some drone models are capable of generating 3D maps of fields, enabling farmers to create the best seed planting pattern. Plus, drones can also show data for irrigation, along with nitrogen level management.
- Seed Planting: Drones can also be helpful in planting seeds on agricultural fields. According to a study, drone technology can lessen planting expenditures by 85%. Basically, a drone shoots pods that don’t only contain seeds, but nutrients as well. Needless to say, as the pods are planted into the field, they are also provided with all the nutrients they need to survive and grow.
- Spraying: Drones also facilitate efficiency as they don’t only spray liquid chemicals on the ground; they scan, evaluate and regulate distance for a wider, even coverage—a feature that conventional machinery Plus, drones are capable of modulating altitude depending on factors such as geography and topography. As chemical fertilizers are sprayed evenly throughout the ground, farmers can save up from chemicals and expect higher crop production. Not to mention, spraying crops with the use of drones is proven to be faster by five-folds as compared to traditional crop spraying methods.
- Health Monitoring: Infestation can happen in a snap of a finger, making it crucial for farm operators to consistently check and evaluate the overall health of their crops. By looking for signs of bacterial or fungal crop infection on trees, farmers can find early remedies and prevent infections from spreading. Drone technology can help in this regard as UAVs can act as carriers of near-infrared light, which helps track and reflect NIR light and green light. By producing multi-spectral images, drones can help farmers fully evaluate the condition of their crops. The faster they act upon problems, the higher their chances of saving their crops. If, on the other hand, they fail to save their crops, they can accurately identify their losses for insurance claims.
- Crop Management: Crop management and monitoring is a laborious task. Aside from the overall condition of the soil, ever-changing weather patterns can also affect crop productivity. Once crop management becomes inefficient, farmers may not be able to find a viable solution to problems that may lead to a lower crop produce.
Back in the previous years, satellite imagery was the most innovative form of imaging. However, it is not only expensive, but it also produces inaccurate images. Add to that, satellite imagery can only be performed once a day. This means that farm operators cannot obtain real-time data by the use of a satellite.
As drone technology emerges, farm operators are given the opportunity to see precise images and data regarding crop production. This enables farmers to spot problems at an early phase, which in turn aids in crop management.
- Irrigation: Drone models built with thermal sensors are capable of identifying parts of agricultural lands that need irrigation. As drylands are supplied with enough water, crops become healthier. In addition to that, some drones can also calculate the plant’s vegetation index, which enables farmers to determine the overall health of their crops. By measuring the amount of heat a plant produces, farmers can determine whether they need more water or not.
Indeed, unmanned aerial vehicles can help the agricultural industry attain its goals for the next few decades. With better and more precise imagery, drones can help increase productivity and profitability. Most importantly, drone technology can be the answer to one of the most significant problems affecting small and large-scale societies: Food shortage.
Jack is a true drone passionate and he focused his education on this amazing field. Thus, he graduated the Drone/UAV Pilot Training Certificate program and now he’s a member of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. His main purpose right now is to find and develop new features and help others discover the wonderful experience of flying a drone. For this, he is the main editor and content creator at MyDroneLab where you can find everything you want to know about drones.