I am a city boy. I grew up on the Northwest Side of Chicago and never really ventured far from it. I love the city! The hustling and bustling of the big city makes me happy.
Right about now, I am sure you are asking yourself why I am sharing these personal facts of my youth. Well, when I decided to explore the use of drones on farms, I realized I never understood the complexity of what a farmer needs to bring food from field to market.
Farmers have used technology to increase the amount of food produced to keep up with demand. Changes in equipment have made a huge impact on the way farmers are able to grow and manage crops. Production improvements have been incremental, moving from farming by hand, to horse drawn equipment, to tractors. According to Michael Walden, Professor of Agriculture and Resource Economics at North Carolina State University, the tractor led to a 140% jump in farm productivity between 1910 and 1950 and the mechanization of automatic planters and harvesters was responsible for an increase of 170% between 1950 and 2010. He said, “That’s what technology does. It allows us to get more from less.”
Drones are the next step in that evolution. In fact, Russ Banham, IndianaVoice Contributor to Forbes Magazine, reports, “Although the use of drones in farming is in its formative stages, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International anticipates that farms will eventually account for an 80 percent share of the commercial drone market globally.”
Drone technology will give farmers the advantage of streamlining the planning process by allowing them to create a strategy based on real-time data. The PwC global report on the commercial applications of drone technology reports the market for drone-powered solutions in agriculture will grow to an estimated $32.4 billion.
The report also focused on the following ways drones will impact farming in the future:
Soil analysis and seed planting
Drones can produce precise 3-D maps for early soil analysis, useful in planning seed planting patterns. Also, drone-planting systems shoot pods with seeds and plant nutrients into the soil, providing the plant all the nutrients necessary to sustain life systems After the crops are planted, soil analysis provides data for irrigation and nitrogen-level management.
Drones equipped with sprayers, and other various kinds of technology, like ultrasonic echoing devices and lasers, can measure distance with extreme precision. Consequently, drones can scan the ground and spray the correct amount of insecticide for even coverage, resulting in a reduction in how much spray is used. Because of this, fewer chemicals reach the groundwater. A spraying job will take less time too; drones can complete a spraying job about five times faster than it has been done in the past.
In the past, the length of the fields, unpredictable weather, etc. would create farming’s largest obstacle: crop monitoring. Satellite imagery offered the most advanced form of monitoring. But this was costly and the images had to be ordered in advance could be taken only once a day, and were imprecise. Further, services were extremely costly and the images’ quality was less than desirable.
Today, time-series animations can show the precise development of a crop and reveal production inefficiencies, enabling better crop management.
Drones can be fitted with remote sensing equipment, such as hyperspectral, multispectral, or thermal sensing systems, that allow them to identify the sections of the field that are the driest. This saves water and allows the farmer to allocate the water where it is needed and not over watering the section where it’s not needed.
It’s important to spot bacterial or fungal infections in the fields and on trees. Drones can scan a crop to assess the crop’s health. By using both visible and near-infrared light, drone-carried devices can identify which plants reflect different amounts of green light and NIR light. These drones are able to collect enough detailed information to calculate a crop’s vegetation index. A quick response to a problem can overcome disease and save the whole crop.
Keeping an Eye on the Livestock
Livestock surveillance drones can fly over, in and around herds to gather information about the livestock including illnesses, pregnancies, and injuries. They can recognize and monitor animals in need of special care. This can reduce the number of premature deaths of the livestock.
Take a moment to enjoy this inspiring video created by Vortex UAS Certified Pilot, Tim Pritts.