2017 - Most Popular Article - How do drones help farmers? They increase yields, save time, increase return on investment, are easy to use, crop health imaging, water efficiency and other environmental benefits. Look to the sky.

How do Drones Help Farmers?

Len Calderone for | AgritechTomorrow.com

Drones are becoming a critical tool for farmers. Many farmers are already benefitting from drone (UAV) technology; and we’ve only scratched the surface of what this relatively new technology can do for agriculture.

Precision Agriculture or smart farming is based on the use of advanced technology in the management of crops to increase output without compromising quality. The need to maintain the balance between cost and quality has made drones particularly attractive for smart farming. Drones are affordable and don’t require a whole lot of training to pilot; but the pilot does need certification. Commercial drones are tough enough to carry remote sensing technology that previously required satellite connectivity or the use of manned aircraft.

In Agriculture, an important use for drones is thermal imaging. Multi-spectral sensors are mounted on a drone, which give farmers a valuable picture of how their crops—specifically crop canopies—perform under different growing methods. Imaging data from a drone is a good indicator of crop vigor and canopy stress.

Multi-spectral sensors allow a farmer to precisely apply needed water, fertilizers, or pesticides only where they are needed instead of applying the same amounts across the entire field. These sensors acquire imagery in bands that can sense vegetation health and identify areas in the fields that are nitrogen deficient through a process known as Normalized Difference Vegetation Index.

Farmers need to evaluate crop health and spot bacterial or fungal infections. 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 generate multi-spectral images that trace changes in plants and reveals their health. A quick response can save an entire planting, by applying solutions as needed.

Crop Spraying with an unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) sprayer does not need a runway, the drone can take off and land vertically. Flying at the low altitude of several yards, the crop-spraying can be controlled. Drones are suitable for all kinds of complex terrain, crops and plantings of varying heights. Precise and accurate crop spraying ensures the best coverage and application of fertilizers or pesticides.

Aerial application—crop dusting—involves spraying crops with crop protection products from an agricultural aircraft. Until drones came along, a farmer needed a specialized agricultural aircraft to perform this operation, which was expensive and not very precise. Now, a farmer can cut costs with their own UAV Sprayer.

Spraying pesticides on crops is one of those jobs where the margin for error is very narrow. While accomplishing the job, a neighbor’s fields must be protected.  A tiny droplet, which is 100 microns in diameter takes 11 seconds to fall 10 feet. At 50 microns, it takes 40 seconds to fall that far, because of the drag that air friction puts on them. That's sufficient time for a wind current to move that droplet to an unintended target. One to two feet above the crop canopy will usually have little drift. But at three feet, the drift distance goes up significantly.

Aided by lasers and ultrasonic echoing technology, spraying drones have greater precision which reduces the overspray risk, plus the amount of chemical applied. As a bonus, spray drones are about five-times faster than traditional spray methods.

There are 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.

The world burns or cuts down about 26 billion trees a year. It replants about 15 billion, resulting in a shortfall. Presently, not enough trees are being planted to combat deforestation—a problem with big implications for climate change.

A drone flies above a targeted area, mapping its level of forestation and reporting back on the potential for restoration. Then, the drone flies 6-10 feet above ground and fires out a seed pod at an adequate speed to penetrate the soil surface. These seeds are pregerminated and covered in a nutritious hydrogel, giving them a higher chance of taking hold. This method is not better than hand planting, just cheaper. A drone can plant 10 seeds per minute. With two operators manning multiple drones, it would be possible to plant up to 36,000 trees in a day.

This same technique can be used for other crops.

With 3-D mapping technology on board, drones collect information on critical factors, including field geography and soil composition early in the planting process which helps farmers adjust seed-planting patterns. The same drones continue to assist by collecting nitrogen levels and irrigation data once the crops are growing.

To improve irrigation, drones are equipped with multispectral, hyperspectral, and thermal sensing technology. These drones can cover enormous fields to collect crop moisture data, and then sound the alarm whenever critically dry areas are identified.

As a starter, check out DJI’s Smarter Farming package, which is an affordable and easy-to-fly agriculture surveying solution for professional agriculture service providers and serious farm operators. This rig is a suitable multispectral agriculture surveying platform.

Agriculture drones are not your run-of-the-mill consumer-grade camera drone or racing drone. The FAA considers all agricultural drone activity as a commercial drone operation. This means the drone operator must have a Remote Pilot Certificate to fly a drone. This is true, even if no money changes hands. The operator must pass the initial aeronautical knowledge exam at an FAA approved knowledge testing center.

In agriculture, drones are being used for collecting high-spatial and temporal-resolution images over wide ranges of regions in a very timely manner. When the farmer needs information quick and in a hurry, the drone can provide it promptly. A typical drone package comes available with three types of software that includes the drone, camera, and the brain that flies the drone. When connected to a computer, the computer can tell the drone what area to fly over.

How do drones help farmers? They increase yields, save time, increase return on investment, are easy to use, crop health imaging, water efficiency and other environmental benefits. Look to the sky.

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of AgriTechTomorrow

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