Drones in Agriculture: Benefits, Applications and Things to Consider
- For farmers and agronomists, estimating annual yield more accurately can help make decisions and manage expectations. Here, drones can offer many benefits, helping to gather more on-demand insights, quickly and efficiently, in a non-destructive way. For example, growers can scout entire fields without ever setting foot in the rows, which helps avoid soil compaction and the spread of pests and diseases while minimizing risks to the worker’s safety.
Return on investment is also crucial. A drone can initially seem like an expensive investment, but it offers many long-term benefits for farmers. Actionable insights gained from drone technology quickly pay for themselves and can be realized in as little as one season.
When taking labor into consideration, if the personnel available is not sufficient to check, or scout the property in question – or if the area is too large to be covered by traditional measures – it may be time to seek alternative methods, such as a drone, that can map up to 500 ha in one single flight.
Plus, when it comes to crops, is productivity below expectations or irregular? Some farmers also decide to switch to agrotechnology with a drone when producing high-value crops, using precision systems, or practicing integrated pest, weed, and disease management (IPM).
Main applications for drones in agriculture
- All-season: crop development, plant health (pests/diseases), nutrition, well-being, weeds mapping/management, leak detection, extreme events assessment, insurance claim, water management (drainage/irrigation), operation’s efficiency, volumetric measurement.
- Pre-season: land survey, land distribution and measuring, land topography, water, and soil management.
- Early season: planting/sowing efficiency, stand spacing, stand counting/stand quality, weed control.
- Mid-season: yield prediction.
- Late season: biomass content, crop maturity, soil conservation.
- Livestock management: counting, detection, behavior, in extensive systems – availability of feed.[picture of UAS here]
- What types of maps can a Drone generate?
Orthomosaic maps (RGB sensor) are used for planning the planting prioritizing, soil conservation and for water management to avoid erosion/leaching. NDVI maps with vegetation indices generation (multispectral sensor) highlight crop health, development and production, depending on the crop, variety, and stage.
For example, thanks to the NDVI dataset (right), the farmer can identify various issues in the field.
- Area 1 showcases the crop emergence stage, percentage and planting orientation.
- Area 2 is the zone ready to be planted. It shows the presence of weeds, and farmers can choose to apply a pre-plant herbicide application for control if necessary, to specific infested spots.
- Area 3 showcases the post-emergence vigor of the crop, such as the quality of the stand, planting failures, stand health, and allows farmers to see both problematic and healthy areas.
- Area 4 allows the identification of any specific problem spots or regions in the field.
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