The Benefits of Drones in Agriculture
The Future of Smart Farming: Drones and Sensors for Mapping and Spraying
What Is Smart Farming?
Smart farming is a concept in farm management that focuses on equipping the agricultural industry with the necessary infrastructure to utilise advanced technology. This includes but is not limited to the use of the cloud and the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor, track, automate, analyse, and optimise operations.
In this industry, this means the use of drones in agriculture to monitor crops constantly by air in order to spot issues that would not be apparent in human ground-level checks. For instance, irrigation status is much more challenging to determine if the person can’t work the whole area in a day. But, with simple time-lapse drone photography, it’s easier to find which sections are being neglected.
What Are Agricultural Drones?
An agricultural drone is a type of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that helps agriculture operations by monitoring crop growth and increasing crop output. In essence, an agricultural drone is no different from drones used in photography or construction. It’s just the application that changes as every UAV will be modified to fit farming needs.
Agricultural Drone Technology Uses
Aerial Surveying or Mapping
Drone farming normally begins with the mapping and surveying process. It’s a fairly straightforward task with a relatively simple goal. The agricultural drone equipped with flight planning software will allow the user to draw around the field that needs to be covered. This software then creates a fully automated flight path and takes photos (depends on the make and model).
The drone uses its onboard sensors and built-in camera and records the images with their corresponding GPS data. This will then create a model of the area that the farmer can use for planning.
Aerial Spraying or Cropdusting
Aerial spraying drones are tank-carrying UAVs that spray crops with fertilisers or pesticides. Unlike a traditional tractor, drones can spray crops more precisely. Because they can be programmed to spray an even amount of liquid in all necessary sections, there’s no risk of overdosing your crops.
Aerial seeding is one of the functions of drones where they fly over a specific terrain equipped with a smart dispersal mechanism to plant-specific species to designated areas. If surveying was done right, the drone will have data on soil hardness and adjust the pressure for firing the seed pods, so the soil is penetrated effectively. Depending on the drone make and model, you can efficiently seed acres of land in just hours. This minimises the need to hire additional labourers. Additionally, you can keep your farmers safer by deploying drones in hard to access areas.
One of the biggest advantages of using a drone for watering is its ability to track water needs. Using infrared technology, an aerial vehicle like this will be able to determine water absorption levels. This means that the user will have access to data on which areas are getting too little, the right amount, or too much water. Built-in sensors will also trigger notifications so the user knows when the drone tank water levels are low.
More advanced drones will come with ground sensors, so soil moisture, temperature, humidity, and other vital information are updated for the farmer’s reference.
Benefits of Agricultural Drone Use
Perhaps one of the most notable benefits of using drones in agriculture is their ability to meet the demands of an ever-growing population. Some farming tasks that will require hundreds of workers can be accomplished by a single drone in a matter of hours. And because drones are equipped with software designed to ensure uniformity in operation, the output quality of crops is guaranteed in every farmland section. This means the lowest resources with maximum yield for every drone owner.
Climate Change Adaptation
Farming operations are greatly affected by climate change. The varying extreme conditions are affecting productivity and putting a strain on the humans working the land. This has led agricultural producers to search for new ways to increase production and improve efficiency that doesn’t exist in traditional farming. With the use of agricultural drones, true sustainability can be achieved.
Agricultural runoff from pesticides and fertiliser is mainly caused by a farmer’s inability to calculate chemical absorption. This leads them to overcompensate and use more than the recommended amount for good measure. This practice will be discontinued with the use of drones. Drones process data that allow them to administer chemicals in a precise manner. This will eventually reduce the amount used and eliminate the chances of over spraying.
What Does the Future Hold for Agricultural Drones?
The size of the agricultural drones in the Australian market is expected to grow from $4.01 billion to $5.04 billion by 2022, based on a report by Frost & Sullivan. Just in Australia alone, there are more than 1200 drone operators who are constantly developing services in the form of technologies to support a larger ecosystem. Presently, Australia is a growing hub for Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) testing.
BVLOS or Beyond Visual Line of Sight testing refers to drone data capture performed across large areas, that the drone will most of the time be outside the pilot’s line of sight. This is slowly becoming the standard in agriculture because although manned aircraft inspections are still used extensively and are relatively efficient, drones can accomplish the job faster, cheaper, and without the need to risk human safety.
Drone technology is constantly evolving to meet agricultural needs. Currently, there are UAVs that can provide real-time data to operators. This makes the economic advantages of drones more attainable. From lowering production costs to maximising farming coverage, there really is no reason one shouldn’t make the switch.
Drones were created to help people overcome obstacles in farming. This makes them an integral part of the human population’s ability to thrive through sustainable food production. The future is here, and it’s in the form of these farming drones. Success is within reach for those willing to adapt to it.