By: Palak Kotwani
From: Nagpur, Maharashtra, India
Coming from a developing country, like India, I have witnessed numerous farmers committing suicides under debt and societal pressure because of their inability to raise the crops efficiently. I believe many other under-developed and developing countries might be facing the same issue or even worse. Consequently, the idea of investing in drone technology to solve these problems seems fascinating and can also transform our lives and the way we do business.
The agricultural industry seems to have embraced drone technology with open arms, using these advanced tools to transform modern farming. High-tech drones allow farmers, and the drone pilots that operate them, to increase efficiency in certain aspects of the farming process. From crop monitoring to planting, livestock management, crop spraying, irrigation mapping, and more.
Understanding the Agricultural Drone Market
Agricultural drones 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. It erases the need for guesswork in modern farming and instead gives farmers the ability to maximize their yields and run more efficient organizations, all while enhancing crop production.
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.
There are multiple uses of 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.
Drones are equipped with technology like propulsion systems, infrared cameras, GPS and navigation systems, programmable controllers, and automated flight planning. Plus, with custom-made data processing software any collected information can instantly be put to use towards better management decisions.
Drones and Agriculture: A Match Made in Heaven
Drones are transforming how agriculture and farming are done. By implementing drone technology, farms and agriculture businesses can improve crop yields, save time, and make land management decisions that’ll improve long-term success. Farmers today have a variety of complex factors that influence the success of their farms. From water access to changing climate, wind, soil quality, the presence of weeds and insects, variable growing seasons, and more.
Agricultural drones allow farmers to obtain access to a wealth of data they can use to make better management decisions, improve crop yields, and increase overall profitability. Drones can be used to collect data related to crop yields, livestock health, soil quality, nutrient measurements, weather and rainfall results, and more. This data can then be used to get a more accurate map of any existing issues, as well as create solutions based upon extremely reliable data. 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 and growing demands of the future.
How Agricultural Drones Are Used
Drone technology can help to accomplish once time-consuming and difficult tasks, all while reducing costs across the board.
Soil and Field Analysis: At the beginning, middle, and end of a crop cycle drones can be used to help obtain useful data surrounding the quality of the existing soil. By obtaining 3D maps of existing soil, we’ll be able to see if there are any issues surrounding soil quality, nutrient management, or soil dead zones. This information can help farmers determine the most effective patterns for planting, managing crops, soil, and more. Ongoing monitoring can help to better utilize water resources, and more effectively manage crop nutrient levels.
Seed Planting: Drone startup companies have been instrumental in developing unique drone technologies to assist with a wide range of ecological and agricultural issues. For example, the company Drone Seed is using unmanned aircraft capable of delivering up to 57 pounds of payload in the form of tree seeds, herbicides, fertilizer and water per aircraft per flight to assist reforestation and replanting projects. This technology helps to minimize 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. Traditionally this was done manually, with vehicles, or even via airplane. These methods are not only inefficient, and burdensome, but they can be very costly as well. With approval from the FAA, Drones can be equipped with large reservoirs, which can be filled with fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. Using drones for crop spraying is much safer and cost-effective. Drones can even be operated completely autonomously and programmed to run on specific schedules and routes. With spot spraying afforded by drones, this same task can be accomplished in less time, with fewer monetary resources, and a reduced environmental cost.
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. In the past, satellite or plane imagery was used to help get a large scale view of the farm, while helping to spot potential issues. However, these images were not only expensive but lacked the precision that drones can provide. Today, we can not only obtain real-time footage but also time-based animation which can illuminate crop progression in real-time. With near infrared (NIR) drone sensors we can actually determine plant health based upon light absorption, giving us a birds-eye view of the overall farm health. The end result is simple, drones can help to maximize land and resource usage, and help farmers better determine crop planting locations.
Irrigation Monitoring and Management: Irrigation can be troublesome. With miles and miles of irrigation, issues are bound to arise. Drones that are equipped with thermal cameras can help to spot irrigation issues, or areas that are receiving too little or excessive moisture. With this information, crops can be better laid out to maximize drainage, adhere to natural land runoff, and avoid water pooling, which can damage sensitive crops. Water and irrigation issues are not only costly but can ruin crop yields as well. With drone surveying, these issues can be spotted before they become troublesome.
Like most things technology-related, we can expect this field to evolve at a rather quick rate. 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 agriculture drone work is bright.
Author: Palak Kotwani
Palak is a senior in high school and is passionate about mathematics, driverless cars, and data science. In her free time, she loves to play badminton and solve sudoku.