Commercial Drone Use
Commercial drone use has become increasingly widespread. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is in the agricultural industry.
At first thought, you’d be forgiven for not associating the two. The traditional realm of farming seems far removed from the technological world of drones.
But upon closer inspection, it’s clear the two complement each other exceptionally well. By integrating drones into their agricultural practices, farmers can gain increased efficiency, greater yields and reduced costs. It’s estimated the agricultural drone market will be valued at $4.8 billion by 2024.
It’s no surprise, then, that the two have exploded in popularity together. But how exactly can drones be used in agriculture to provide these results?
Our team of experts have taken a look at the six best ways drones can be used in agriculture.
1 - Mapping
Perhaps the most apparent advantage of using drones is that they make mapping out an area of land significantly easier.
Previously, it has been challenging to map and monitor vast areas of land accurately. In-person solutions are low efficiency. Satellite images are imprecise and have to be planned in advance.
In contrast, drone use allows you to get a clear birds-eye view of an entire field. You can do this as frequently as needed, across varying weather conditions, and in a precise manner.
What’s more, the drone does not always need to be controlled by a manual user. Many new models have integrated flight planning software. You can draw the area you want it to cover and let it fly the route on auto-pilot. Once it’s in the air, it uses onboard sensors and GPS to calculate when to capture each shot.
Such real-time monitoring over large expanses of land is an incredibly useful leap forward in the industry.
2 - Health Assessment/Problem identification
It’s one thing to map out an area of land, but it’s another to assess the health of the crops within it. Thankfully, there’s a wide range of cameras that are fitted to drones to do just that.
The most popular of which are multispectral cameras. They work by taking images that capture multiple wavelengths of light (many of which are invisible to the human eye).
Why is this useful?
Well, healthy plants reflect light differently from unhealthy ones. Healthy ones typically reflect more green light, while sick ones reflect more red light. They also reflect near-infrared. To our eyes, this variance is impossible to notice.
When a drone maps a massive land area, it picks all this information up with the multispectral camera. Plant health algorithms such as NDVI and VARI capture the proportions of light across different bands. This produces a map of the field which indicates which crops are healthy and which are suffering (based on the colour they show up as).
The benefits of this are broad:
- Refining fertilisation – by detecting which crops have nutrient deficiency symptoms, fertiliser can be applied to them directly. That reduces any wastage.
- Optimising pesticide input – any illnesses can be treated effectively through early detection of biotic stress. This again reduces wastage, and also prevents diseases spreading through the batch of crops.
- Controlling crop irrigation – by identifying areas of water stress, moisture levels can be managed effectively.
- Estimating crop yield – by processing & exploiting ergonomic indices.
3 - Crop Dusting/Surveying
So far, we’ve established drones can be used in agriculture to map out an area and assess various health metrics regarding the crops within it.
But what about providing solutions to the identified issues? Well, it just so happens, they are capable of that too with what’s known as crop dusting.
Crop dusting is where drones are used to spray pesticide on unhealthy crops. There are several reasons why this type of application is preferable:
- Precision – traditional methods of spraying pesticides are prone to wastage. Whether that’s through human error or improper calculations. Drone sprayers deliver targeted and more accurate/even distribution of pesticides.
- Speed – using tractors to patrol fields and apply products can be highly time-consuming. In contrast, drones are agile and can get to the necessary spot in no time. It’s estimated that spraying can be completed up to five times faster with drones than with traditional machinery.
- Health – by using drones, any potential health risk posed to humans by coming into contact with pesticides is eliminated.
This type of spraying isn’t only limited to pesticide use. It’s also applicable to irrigation, detecting moisture levels in the soil and distributing water to where needed.
All these spraying measures increase efficiency and reduce cost. Therefore, providing a more efficient agricultural operation.
4 - Livestock Management
If you thought the use of drones in agriculture was limited to crops, you’d better think again. There are numerous potential ways this innovative technology can be used in the management of livestock.
Roaming/Field Security – as a livestock farmer, it’s inevitable you’ve had to deal with animals escaping (and the headache that comes along with it).
Through drone usage, you can easily carry out periodic perimeter/fence line checks. Just look at the footage in real-time and assess whether any areas need repairing or whether any livestock are on the loose. Often, the AI integrated into the drone will be able to count the livestock for you.
Monitoring Animal Welfare – with thousands of animals to take care of, it can be challenging to monitor the wellbeing of every individual in a herd.
Drones can aid farmers to pick out animals who are displaying symptoms of disease. This is identified by thermal imaging cameras, which pick up the elevated heat signatures of animals with a high temperature.
This enables quicker treatment with higher chances of success and a lower chance of the infection spreading amongst the herd.
5 - Planting
Another emerging use of drone tech in agriculture is planting. This is where drones are fitted with shooters which spit out seeds into the ground. Often the seeds are shot out in pods that contain all the nutrients needed for optimal growth.
Like other drone applications, this method of planting is more efficient than its human alternative. It allows for seeds to be planted at a faster rate and for them to be planted in hard to reach areas.
Such seed planting is mainly used in forest industries, but it has a big future in agriculture.
6 - Safety & Security
UAVs are viewed as a far safer option than traditional farming methods. They’re easier to use for mapping difficult areas such as uneven, rugged fields – which are usually carried out on foot.
They also ensure workers avoid coming into contact with potentially harmful chemicals found in pesticides.
To emphasise how dynamic drones can be in agriculture, you can even use them for security. Security drones can be deployed to monitor fencing and perimeters of more valuable crops like cannabis instead of employing more security personnel.
Drones are revolutionizing the agricultural industry.
Whether it’s through better mapping & problem identification or more effective treatment and counting of cattle, one thing is for sure.
Drones make agriculture more efficient. They allow farmers to increase yields, reduce costs and save time. In an industry of slim profit margins, you must integrate drones into your agricultural business to remain competitive.
If you would like to speak to one of our experts about incorporating drones into your operations, contact us here.