Drones in the Agriculture
Last week we spoke a little bit about drone’s impact in the irrigation industry. We at Irrigation Listings wanted to learn a little bit more about these miniature air crafts. So, we did some research on a drone’s ability to impact the agriculture industry.
First off, our basic research lead us to learn quite a bit about these unmanned aerial vehicles or what we better know as drones. This technology has been used in the commercial setting since the early 1980s. Though today’s use for practical applications for drones is expanding faster than ever thought they would in a variety of industries and uses such as entertainment, photography, recreational, agriculture and so many more. Due to this massive increase in use, regulations on governing their use have been placed. As a response to the rapidly evolving technology, companies are creating new business and operating models.
The total addressable value of drone focused solutions in all applicable industries is more than $127 billion, according to PwC analysis. Drone focused companies are seeing the most promise in the agriculture industry. Because they see drones offer the most potential for addressing several major challenges that the industry is faced with. Recently extreme weather events are on the rise, creating additional obstacles to productivity examples of these are the extreme cold that Minnesota and South Dakota saw this winter and the massive flooding that Nebraska witnessed in March.
Agricultural producers must embrace revolutionary strategies in order to produced food, increase productivity, and make sustainability a priority. Drones are part of the solution, along with closer collaboration between governments, technology leaders, and industry.
Six Options for Agricultural Drones
Following are six ways aerial and ground-based drones will be used throughout the crop cycle outlined by TechnologyReview.com:
- Soil and field analysis: Drones can be instrumental at the start of the crop cycle. They produce precise 3-D maps for early soil analysis, useful in planning seed planting patterns. After planting, drone-driven soil analysis provides data for irrigation and nitrogen-level management.
- Planting: Startups have created drone-planting systems that achieve an uptake rate of 75 percent and decrease planting costs by 85 percent. These systems shoot pods with seeds and plant nutrients into the soil, providing the plant all the nutrients necessary to sustain life.
- Crop spraying: Distance-measuring equipment—ultrasonic echoing and lasers such as those used in the light-detection and ranging, or LiDAR, method—enables a drone to adjust altitude as the topography and geography vary, and thus avoid collisions. Consequently, drones can scan the ground and spray the correct amount of liquid, modulating distance from the ground and spraying in real time for even coverage. The result: increased efficiency with a reduction of in the number of chemicals penetrating into groundwater. In fact, experts estimate that aerial spraying can be completed up to five times faster with drones than with traditional machinery.
- Crop monitoring: Vast fields and low efficiency in crop monitoring together create farming’s largest obstacle. Monitoring challenges are exacerbated by increasingly unpredictable weather conditions, which drive risk and field maintenance costs. Previously, satellite imagery offered the most advanced form of monitoring. But there were drawbacks. Images had to be ordered in advance, could be taken only once a day, and were imprecise. Further, services were extremely costly and the images’ quality typically suffered on certain days. Today, time-series animations can show the precise development of a crop and reveal production inefficiencies, enabling better crop management.
- Irrigation: Drones with hyperspectral, multispectral, or thermal sensors can identify which parts of a field are dry or need improvements. Additionally, once the crop is growing, drones allow the calculation of the vegetation index, which describes the relative density and health of the crop, and show the heat signature, the amount of energy or heat the crop emits.
- Health assessment: It’s essential to assess crop health and spot bacterial or fungal infections on trees. By scanning a crop using both visible and near-infrared light, drone-carried devices can identify which plants reflect different amounts of green light and NIR light. This information can produce multispectral images that track changes in plants and indicate their health. A speedy response can save an entire orchard. In addition, as soon as a sickness is discovered, farmers can apply and monitor remedies more precisely. These two possibilities increase a plant’s ability to overcome the disease. And in the case of crop failure, the farmer will be able to document losses more efficiently for insurance claims.
Future of the Technology
Drones might involve fleets, or swarms, of autonomous drones that could tackle agricultural monitoring tasks collectively, as well as hybrid aerial-ground drone actors that could collect data and perform a variety of other tasks. Though that idea sounds much like a make-believe show to us at Irrigation Listings it is impossible to accurately determine how far today’s technology will take us.
But why have we seen drones take off faster? Something must be slowing the progress. The main reason for the slow welcome is due to the safety of drone operations, privacy issues, and insurance-coverage questions and the biggest agricultural concern is the type and quality of data that can be captured. Companies are working to answer these questions and promote the use of technology in the fields.