Updated: Feb 22, 2021
Farming is facing many challenges, such as reducing productivity, increasing labor shortage, extreme weather conditions are on the rise. It is projected that the world’s population will reach 9 billion by 2050, and global food production needs to increase by between 60-100%. Unfortunately, producing enough food for an increasing population is facing more challenges. Without updating the current and traditional farming practices, future demand for food will face a threat.
The use of modern and precision farming technologies revolutionize agriculture. Precision farming uses the technology of global positioning system (GPS) together with geographic information system (GIS) tools to accurately measure yield and crop parameters within fields by using real-time data. It can play an essential role in providing the solution to most common farming challenges by increasing farm productivity, quality, producing food, improving working conditions through the reduction of manual labor, and making sustainable farming.
“Drones are at the forefront of that challenge.”
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, is an aircraft without a human pilot and passengers. It is one of the newest technologies used by modern farmers, especially for precision agriculture. The flight of drones can be controlled directly by a pilot with remote control on the ground or autonomously by computers in the vehicle.
Drones are widely used in farming or agriculture fields in many different activities, leading to high-tech agriculture and can help to ease farming practices. According to PwC, the market for drones in agriculture is $32.4 billion and estimates that the 80 to 90% drone market will come from agriculture in the next decade.
In large farms, farmers find it difficult to inspect the field on a regular basis. Drones can do this task easily at any time on a daily and regular basis, and farmers can do regular air monitoring to the field to know the status of their crops at regular intervals of time, which helps to update all critical information, increase productivity and the quality as well.
The following are the various essential applications of drones in agriculture:
Soil and field analysis
Drones can produce 3-D maps for soil analysis, which is useful in seed planting from the beginning of the crop year. The data for irrigation and managing the nitrogen level of the fields can be provided by the soil and field analysis through drones to improve crop growth. In addition, drone-generated variable-rate application (VRA) maps help to determine the strength of nutrient uptake in a field and help to decrease fertilizer costs and increase yield.
Drone planting is a relatively newer technology. Some companies are trying to experiment with custom systems that can shoot seedpods into prepared soil and plant nutrients to provide all the necessary nutrients to sustain life.
For example, Droneseed company uses drones to deliver up to 57 pounds of payload in the form of tree seeds, herbicides, fertilizer, and water per aircraft per flight.
A Canadian team developed a drone for planting trees. The team fired small pods of seed into the ground by using a pressurized air cannon. The team expects a single drone operator to plant 100,000 seed pods per day and predict one billion trees can be planted by 2028.
“Drones can reduce overall planting times and labor costs to a wide range of farm types.”
To maintain high yields, crops need to spray fertilizers and pesticides to control the pest, which is very difficult and costly by traditional methods with vehicles or by airplanes, especially for the large fields. Using drones is very cost-effective, faster, and easier.
Drones can fly over crops and take pictures. They can use infrared and multispectral cameras to see inside the plants and determine what effect the newly sprayed pesticides have. Drones can spray the pesticide autonomously by using its software.
Spraying drones are capable of vertical or altitude adjustments for topography or height by ultrasonic echoing and lasers. So, drones can scan the ground and spray the accurate amount of liquid by regulating the distance from the ground faster than the traditional machine.
“Drones prevent damage to crops and harm the health of farmers.”
Drone flies over crop field and spraying
Plant health monitoring
Crops are susceptible to bacterial, fungal infection, insects, and pathogens which can be devastating. To detect this, visual inspection is very time-consuming on a small farm and hard on large-scale farming operations.
Drones equipped with infrared cameras can detect disease by scanning a crop using both visible and near-infrared light; the sensor can identify which plants reflect different amounts of green light and NIR light. The changes in plants can be tracked by the information from the multispectral images. If a farmer can detect an infection before it spreads, farmers can apply remedies more precisely.
“Drones can save an entire orchard by providing speedy information about crop health.”
Irrigation can be troublesome and costly on a large-scale farm. Drones with a multispectral image, hyperspectral or thermal sensors can detect the water content underground, which allows a farmer to determine if a crop row is overhydrated or receiving little or excessive moisture.
In Africa, growing sugarcane has cut the cost from $40,000 to $24,000 compare to the traditional irrigation for one acre of sugarcane. So, drones can reduce not only cost but also improve crop yields as well.
Drone technology can be used to monitor large crop fields. Traditionally this was done by satellite or plane imagery, which is expensive, not worked during bad weather conditions, and provides imprecise images. Drones can provide real-time footage and time-based animation, which helps crop improvement and provide better crop management.
Drone mapping images captured to detect crop condition
“Drones provide accurate and real-time data that farmers can use immediately.”
Also, drones can calculate the vegetation index, which provides information about the relative density, health of the crops, heat signature, and the amount of energy or heats the crop emits.
Images captured by a drone give NDVI field map
“NDVI (Normalised Differential Vegetation Index) was created from the maps captured by the drones.”
Drones allow farmers to keep track of livestock in a greater frequency with less time and labor investment.
Drones with thermal imaging cameras are used to identify missing livestock in remote or challenging areas, illegal trespassers or hunters, and electric fence lines. Geo-referenced maps can determine the heavily grazed areas, water and feeder levels, and overrun plants.
Precision farming technologies have great potential for the challenges of modern farm production, although there are some risks and limitations of using drones.
To sum up, drones protect crops from pests, save time, reduce cost in production, and, most importantly, secures high yield and quality crops.
“Drones help farmers to optimize the use of inputs such as seed, fertilizer, water, and pesticide more efficiently.”
*Author: Sanzida Akhter (Horticulturist| Ecologist| Co-founder of AgriBioTechX)
*Source Images: Google | OXOBIO | AGASYST
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