Drones in Agriculture; The Future of Farming.
With most experts predicting a doubling of our food output by 2050 to feed the world’s population, mechanisms that make farming, growing, and harvesting more profitable are critical elements in today’s agriculture industry. To that end, using drones in agriculture is becoming the norm and one of the primary technologies assisting farmers and growers in increasing their margins, reducing input costs, and increasing productivity and crop yield.
Drone operation is frequently employed in precision agriculture, which significantly increases overall efficiency, sustainability, and profitability.
Agricultural drone technology, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), will never replace human hands tending fields and making critical decisions based on years of experience and education. However, drones can provide precision data points that help growers make the most informed choices in managing their crops and fields.
Drones are also one of the most cost-effective delivery systems for pesticide, herbicide, fertilizer, and water applications accomplishing these tasks up to 5 times faster than traditional methods.
The AUVSI (the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International) has predicted that farms will eventually account for 80% of the commercial drone market. It’s not a giant leap to understand why that drone usage statistic is fast becoming a reality in farm management.
A study by Informa Economics and Measure, a drone service provider, estimated that Corn, Wheat, and Soybean growers could save 1.3 billion annually by using drones in their farming operations.
By using infrared light to scan crops and canopies, drones can monitor crop health and soil health in real-time, helping growers identify field areas that require intervention to prevent loss.
Here are some of the top ways drones are revolutionizing existing agricultural practices.
It’s fair to say that soil health is everything to a thriving agricultural venture. It is the primary medium that delivers water and nutrients to growing crops. At the beginning of the growing cycle, drones can perform soil analysis, generate data maps, and provide accurate data for irrigation and nitrogen metrics. However, traditional soil sampling and analysis can take weeks and become costly. Additionally, each sample only measures the data of that spot.
Sowing & Planting:
Using nutrient-dense seed pods shot from above, drones can drive planting efforts saving labor costs by as much as 80%. Companies like AirSeed Technology currently use high-powered drone fleets to fight deforestation. Their fleets can plant up to 40 million seed pods per day.
Field Monitoring & Irrigation:
Monitoring crops on such vast swaths of land is a real challenge for growers. Soil and moisture conditions can vary dramatically from one area to another, creating “micro-climates” and unpredictable crop quality and output variations. Add unpredictable weather patterns, and crop output is put at abject risk.
Using spectral and thermal sensors, drones can generate maps and images showing crops’ growth, plant health, and development using the vegetation index to inform growers of the density and status of their fields. In addition, drones can spot and track the progress of bacterial or fungal growth. As a result, growers can react in real-time to site-specific areas with interventions such as additional irrigation, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, and remedies. Through early detection and intervention, farmers can stem potential losses and boost production and profit.
Fertilizer & Pesticide Spraying:
Since drones take off and land vertically rather than horizontally, they can be used with surgical precision to administer fertilizers and pesticides in just the areas that need it, rather than to canvass entire areas as in years past. This level of accuracy allows growers to maximize their efficiencies, reduce input and labor costs, and avoid the dreaded “drift” when spraying.
With robust data collection, analysis, and reporting through drone surveillance, growers can manage their operations much more efficiently with less labor, time, and cost. In addition, drones can aid farmers in spotting areas of concern that might otherwise be missed with traditional methods.
As the pressure to feed a growing global population increases and weather patterns become increasingly erratic and unpredictable, drones in agriculture will become ubiquitous. Their ability to help farmers combat the challenges of running a high output operation while remaining profitable and sustainable makes their presence invaluable.
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