The battle to run a farm efficiently in the face of climate change and other obstacles is challenging for farmers. If you are a farmer who wants to fight back, you need to embrace any advantage that technology can offer. One way to increase efficiency and overcome several obstacles is by the use of drones in agriculture.
You cannot control all the forces of nature, including the weather, but you can adjust what you do and when you do it if you arm yourself with an accurate weather forecast and other essential data. For this to be done with the utmost efficiency, it requires ongoing access to high-quality data in real-time.
The use of drones in agriculture can also give you more and better quality data leading to reduced expenses and greater precision, efficiency, and crop yields. When combined with the detailed analysis from applied software, the data acquired using drones gives farmers unparalleled insights. That data allows for better planning and fine-tuning.
PwC estimates the agricultural drone-powered solutions market at $32.4 billion. So, how are all these drone solutions used in farming today? What are the pros and cons of using them?
Let’s begin with current applications:
Right at the start of the crop cycle, farmers can use drones to analyze soil and fields. Their cameras and sensors can capture data and images that farmers can use to make very accurate 3D maps. These precise maps can then determine seed planting patterns and provide vital data related to irrigation needs and nitrogen levels.
Planting is a costly and time-consuming job that can be made much easier by the use of drones. Drone planting systems have been designed to reduce the cost of planting significantly, but how is it possible for a drone to plant seeds?
Drones accomplish the task by shooting seed and nutrient-containing pods into the soil. The system is successful with a proven 75% uptake rate.
According to experts, crop spraying is a job that you can do five times faster with drones than with traditional machinery. Drones equipped with sophisticated distance modulating sensors allow for efficient and precise aerial spraying of crops. As a result, the task is accomplished more quickly and effortlessly, with reduced environmental impact due to more exact amounts of chemicals sprayed.
Monitoring /crop health
One obvious application for drone technology in agriculture is crop monitoring. The challenge of closely monitoring what can, in many cases, be vast areas of land is not new. Until now, tech-savvy farmers have used satellite images to monitor crops.
Using satellite images to monitor crops is a method that has its limitations. The images captured by satellite are, of course, not instantly available and have to be ordered in advance. The images are also not very precise, and the service comes at a high price.
Using drones to monitor crops addresses these limitations and allows farmers to use drones to capture data efficiently and in real-time. For example, the crop’s health can be measured and assessed by capturing the heat signature emitted by the plants. The drones use infrared lighting to single out plants that show signs of disease.
Catching these or other issues early can prevent unexpected losses.
Drones fly infrared and near-infrared cameras over a field to assess each part of the field and see which parts need more or less water. Temperature and radiation measurements taken from the plants determine the level of plant stress. The drones can also be used in conjunction with ground sensors that measure soil moisture.
Pros and cons of the use of drones in agriculture
There are certain general advantages to drone technology that also specifically apply to agriculture. Here is the list of some of those pros:
- Cost-saving – A drone is far cheaper to buy, run, and maintain than a plane that would otherwise be used to carry out aerial inspections. Drones, using high-res cameras and sensors, can capture high-quality aerial photographs and videos. Users employ this data for multiple purposes that are extremely valuable to farmers, including the generation of 3D Maps.
- Precision – Drones use GPS and can be guided with precision. A farmer can use a drone to perform many tasks on the farm, as outlined above. The ability to navigate with precision, thanks to the use of GPS, saves a farmer time and money.
- Easy to control – You can learn to operate a drone quickly. Drones are highly maneuverable with a comprehensive range of movement. They can be flown low and in all directions.
- Enable access to difficult-to-reach areas – Drones make it easy for farmers to navigate to inaccessible locations on the farm. Drones also allow a more cost-effective approach toward inspections of these locations.
There are some negatives you should be aware of as well, including:
- Legislative uncertainty – Concerning drones, the law is often vague and is still in the making. The law is still trying to catch up with the help of this relatively new technology. Due to grey areas concerning regulations about airspace and property rights, you might break a rule you didn’t know existed.
- Compatibility with animals – Drones are susceptible to wild animal attacks. It is also possible that they crash into and harm a vulnerable animal. Large birds of prey have attacked and even carried away drones.
- Weather dependent – Drones are vulnerable to adverse weather conditions. If the weather conditions are poor, the data and image capture capabilities may be adversely affected. Flying the drone may also not be possible, although some drone designs maintain stability in adverse weather.
In so many ways, including the use of drones, precision agriculture depends on weather prediction. Weather forecast information is playing an increasingly important role in the evolving field of precision agriculture. As a “big data” weather provider, DTN is committed to providing hyper-local weather data and knowledge used to help make precision agriculture a reality.