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How drones are used in agriculture

Publish 12 October 2022

By: Jordan

Expertise

The United Nations is projecting that the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. This means that current agricultural approaches will need to be improved in order to accommodate that growth. The use of drone technologies provides a good potential for solving several major challenges encountered with the current agriculture methods. Its major areas of application include crop inspection and spraying, field and soil analysis and irrigation, while simultaneously reducing the carbon footprint of agricultural soil exploitation.

Crop inspection

The biggest challenge in farming is caused by huge fields and ineffective crop monitoring. Weather conditions that are becoming more unpredictable due to climate change make monitoring hard to manage and increase risk and field maintenance expenses. Generating graphs with the data recorded from the drones may precisely depict a crop's growth and expose production inefficiencies, allowing for improved crop management. That same data can be stored to provide a record, allowing farmers to compare crops across seasons as a means to optimise their yield in various conditions.

Crop spraying

In order to ensure even coverage of crops, drones can scan the ground and spray the appropriate amount of liquid while adjusting their distance from it in real time using distance-measuring tools such as LiDar. (LiDAR is a method of detecting, measuring and mapping using a laser. LiDAR is typically used in situations where standard survey techniques are difficult.)

The end outcome is improved effectiveness with less chemical penetration into groundwater. A case study of some vineyards in Spain demonstrated how a drone enables up to double economical savings.

drones_spraying_crops

Figure 1. Drone spraying pesticides in Lowveld, Zimbabwe (Drone News, 2020) Source: Drone News Africa

Field and soil analysis

Drones are useful in the beginning of the agricultural cycle. For early soil investigation, they enable photogrammetry, i.e. the creation of exact 3-D maps (figure 2) that are helpful for organising seed planting patterns. Drone-driven soil analysis after planting gives information for managing irrigation.

Photogrammetry

Figure 2. Photogrammetry (Surveying Group News, 2022) Source: Surveying Group News

Irrigation

A field's dry spots can be found by drones equipped with hyperspectral, multispectral, or thermal sensors. Drones also make it possible to calculate the vegetation index, which describes the crop's relative density and health, and to visualise its heat signature once it has begun to grow.

Drone technology is one that has proven itself multiple times to have the potential to improve our lives. Its scope regarding the agriculture domain is currently vast and still expanding. From analysing the soil to inspecting the crops to spraying them, more farmers should take the leap and start using them to increase their returns while also caring for the environment.


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