Drones in Agriculture 10 ways UAVs are Shifting Agri-Tech Paradigm

Odds are, you are familiar with drones and are aware of their primary use. While some leverage drones for aerial surveillance or just for recreational use, agricultural proprietors are slowly recognizing the monumental impact unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could have on land management. Drones are now a part the wave of next-gen farming, a trend also known as smart farming, a holistic, software-centric approach to long-standing growing traditions.

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As the world’s population continues to implode, food production must be increased by 70% to properly supply everyone, forcing the agricultural industry to become more efficient – produce more at a faster pace.

Drones open a door to unparalleled accuracy in managing crops and livestock and help farmers expand production without affecting the quality of product. UAVs are able to sustain the kinds of remote sensing technology that use to require satellite correspondence or a manned aircraft.

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1) Fighting Crop Diseases

Farmers are using drones to measure their agriculture techniques by using data technology for mapping and spraying their crops, to make sure they get precisely what they need to remain healthy.

Approximately 30-40% of the produce from cultivated plants die each year from diseases. In order to prevent this from continuing, farmers must dedicate time and valuable resources (like UAVs) to their work. By using drones to inspect the fields, farmers are able to more accurately evaluate the crops for disease symptoms and gauge the severity of those symptoms.

Farmers compare data from the UAV pictures and their groundwork analysis to determine the performance of the drones. After validating their equipment, UAVs are free to roam the fields and transmit data back to the growers, constantly collecting metrics related to the health of the field.

Ultimately, UAVs are intended to catch signs of decay, the human eye cannot perceive using a network of smart sensors. By proactively capturing this information, we can detect possible diseases in plants before the crops began showing any visible signs and treat infections immediately.

If agriculturalists can spray their crops early on, targeting the right locations fungicides would have the best effect, they can produce higher yields. This is particularly important in combating the effects of climate change. As the climate changes, farmers drones will identify stress, helping us to adjust conditions and restore homeostasis.

The drones use multispectral cameras with unique filters to capture reflected light from the selected sector of the electromagnetic spectrum. Using multiple lenses and filters gives growers heightened visibility into crop health, a perspective they’ve never had the opportunity to see before.

2) Food Security

As the world’s population increases the cultivable land area is decreasing day by day, and malnutrition is becoming more of a problem. The primary source of food for human beings is plants and animals. Moving forward, food security will become a major concern for both developed and third-world nations.

The fate of human survival depend on agriculture and livestock. Drones can be used to reconstruct both livestock and agricultural farming by optimizing inputs, time, labor, and cost. Smart farming can increase productivity to a massive extent.Uses include seeding, irrigation, precise fertilization, harvesting, detecting soil health, and detect plant height.

Drones can also be used for livestock to identify sick animals, check pasture quality, and generally watch the animals. With climate change becoming a growing issue drones can reduce some of the problems by improving soil health.

By scanning the ground, they can detect the dry parts of the landto see where nutrients like nitrogen are lacking. “Precision Agriculture is all about applying inputs at the right time, right place and right amount focusing only on problematic areas,” states the Committee on World Food Security.

Considering Healthy soil absorbs carbon dioxide, drones indirectly contribute to the carbon decline, doing their part in mitigating climate change all over the world. Shifting gears toward modernization and mechanization will revamp agriculture in all parts of the world to relieve food crises.

3) Fertilizer

Developers have determined that drones can assist farmers in applying fertilizer in a fraction of the time that it would take a human being to apply it manually.

Drones can accomplish essential farming tasks in minutes rather than hours, propelling efficiency forward to address the impossible demands put on the agricultural industry. The drone era will result in increased efficiency and maximized yields. Drones construct satellite maps that help farmers make crucial decisions regarding their fertilizer distribution.

If we are able to better understand our fertilizer needs, we can cut costs dramatically and increase profit marigin, considering fertilizer represents up to 50% of input costs. By using the high tech sensors embedded in the drones,farmers gain insight into where nutrients are being appliedand where more nutrients are needed. This way the fertilizer can be absorbed by plants where it’s needed most. 

That advancement alone has the potential to increase production dramatically. The use of water similarly plays a role in fertilizer accuracy, letting the farmer know how much fertilizer to apply by using the data to alter field irrigation and avoid wasting extra water.

The drone technology would help lessen excess fertilizer from running into nearby rivers or streams. Fewer runoffs would reduce the algal blooms and dead zones in our water systems across the world.

4) Herbicide

The camera attached to the UAV reduces the use of weed killer chemicals by only focusing on using it where it is most needed, rather than spraying the entire field. The camera would pick up parts of the light spectrum that corresponds to the proof of weeds in crops. The information would be presented to the sharecropper where it’s used to map out the field and identify the location of the problem.

After the area is examined someone usually goesto manually survey the area before spraying. The drones reduce the amount of time it takes to complete this process by hours, a job that took all day only takes about 20 minutes in some cases. Before using a UAV it was usually the farmer on foot or in a vehicle going from acre to acre, but as plants grow it was harder to cover ground and determine accuracy.

Now, there are larger drones that can carry up to 20 liters of pesticides that follow a pre-mapped route to hit predetermined spray-safe zones. Drones replace hard labor and eliminate the danger of backpack sprayers. More than 10,000 trained operators are already using a commercial spraying drones to reduce their work load. 

5) Insecticide

Other than being an annoyance, mosquitoes seen unthreatening. However, their reputation as disease carriers ignited conversation on the topic of drones for insecticide distribution. Proposals for focusing on low altitude aerial application to control the mosquito population have been made and farmers are taking an interest.

Insects that can chew create holes in foliage, leaf skeletonizing, leaf defoliation, or consuming the roots of the plants. Stem-boring insects can harm or kill individual stems or consume the entire plant. Insects can also cause damage to plants when they lay eggs into plant tissue, compromising the stems or branches of the plant.

Furthermore, plants can transfer diseases called vectors, which increase the risk of economic loss. Drones work the same for insects as they do for weeds. The drone would soar over the area to detect the affected areas and spray that area. With the insect detection technology, farmers reduce the volume of dangerous chemicals being spread throughout the farmland and draining into nearby bodies of water.

6) NIR Sensors

Developers use Near Infrared (NIR) sensors to measure key parameters in manufacturing processes. There are optical mechanisms used to create accurate, stable, and vigorous measurements. Geometric techniques are used to pinpoint the area of concern that requires a given measurement.

Those quantities include ambient lighting, relative humidity, product height fluctuations, seasonal differences, and color variations. NIR sensors increase quality assurance.

In agriculture, NIR sensors are centered on the interaction of electromagnetic radiation with soil or plant material.The multispectral imaging camera sensors on agricultural drones allow the grower to manage crops, soil, fertilizing, and irrigation more accurately.

Typically, remote sensing involves the measurement of radiation reflected from agricultural fields rather than being absorbed. Plant reflectance is greater in the NIR section, as a result of leaf density and canopy structure effects.

Red wavelengths monitor a wide range of plant health problems including fungal pathogens, excess salt, and nutrient deficiencies. Farmers can use NIR tech to monitor, plan and care for their farm more effectively, saving both time and money. 

7) Thermal Cameras

A thermal imaging camera on a drone can be used as a very powerful tool, by detecting heat coming from almost all objects or materials and turning them into visual images or videos. Everything in our lives gives off thermal energy, even ice. The hotter something is, the more thermal energy it emits. This emitted thermal energy is called a “heat signature.

Temperature can also affect the wavelength and frequency of the radiated waves when you view a thermal visual the radiation surrounding something is the energy radiated from a range of wavelengths.

When the temperature of an object increases, the wavelengths within the ranges of the released radiation decreases. Thermal imaging cameras are very beneficial for agriculturalists that have livestock, the cameras can view their animals and potential predators that may approach.

The cameras contain adjustments to identify the difference between hot or cold ground and have the ability to reach areas that are hard to get to or see with the naked eye.

A thermal measurement can swiftly show where locations within a field are under or even over-irrigated. While the historic way of determining drainage was to probe and dig, which took hours at a time, farmers now have the ability to detect these concerns remotely from the comfort of their homes using drone technology.

8) Artificial Intelligence

Drone technology will give the agriculture industry a high-technology overhaul, giving farmers the opportunity to plana and strategize based on real-time data gathering and processing.

PwC guesses that the market for drone influenced solutions in agriculture will be at $32.4 billion. This technology would be used for soil and field analysis, planting, crop spraying, monitoring, irrigation, and health assessment. 

Looking into the future, UAVs might contain fleets of autonomous drones that could complete agricultural monitoring task cooperatively as well as collecting data all on their own. What’s slowing the process down is safety operation, privacy issues, and insurance coverage concern. There have to be laws in place to set standards to use this type of technology for business purposes only.

One up-and-coming application of artificial intelligence in the agricultural industry is predictive analysis. With this drones are being altered to track and predict multiple environmental impacts on crop yields like weather changes. Experts predict 62% of the agricultural industry is looking forward to owning a drone in the near future.

Drones and their continuous improvement in technology have transformed the way farmers plan for future production, even down to pinpointing the best areas to plant their next set of seeds. Artificial intelligence is the automation component of drone use, programming a drone a set of parameters, and watching it execute those parameters.

9) Pollination

Pollination is a natural process that allows plants to reproduce. Pollen contains a plant’s genetic material andmust travel from male to female of the same plant species to achieve fertilization.

Around 75% of the world’s crops such as apples, chocolate, carrots, and tomatoes depend in part on pollination. The estimated value of food produced with the help of pollinators is between $235 billion and $577 billion a year.Due to thedecline in bee populations, developers have created greenhouse drones that produce artificial pollination. 

The reasons for the decline in bees vary from habitat loss to pathogens, parasites, and climate change. There are both self-pollinating and cross-pollinating drones that can collect and map greenhouse environmental data.

The development of Autonomous Pollination and Imaging System (APIS) was created to aid in self-pollinating crops such as tomatoes. The UAV locates flowers with a camera and releases a jet of air that vibrates a branch of flowers, then takes a picture of the flowers to view the pollination and check its success. The goal is not to replace natural pollinators, instead, the developed technology would assist them in case it is needed.

10) Planting Seeds

Current advancements in UAV technology have decreased seeding costs tremendously. One company BioCarbon Engineering has a current taskforce of drones that can plant up to 100,000 trees a day. The drone fly over their designated area to collect information to drop “seed pods” in areas where they are more likely to flourish. 

With the 3D mapping technology, drones optimize field configurations and create seed planting patterns. Not only dothe seed pods sowseeds, but they would also place nutrient filled pods down in the ground at the right depth to supply the growing crops.

After planting, drone-driven soil examination provides data for irrigation and nitrogen-level supervision.This technique of seed planting is almost 10X faster than human beings planting by hand and cuts cost in half for agriculturists.

In a world experiencing continuous population growth, the only way to ensure food security is through agricultural innovation. We must become more precise with our growing techniques and land management. Drones are able to see the lay of the land in a way humans never will, collecting data from heights and depths we simply have not been able to reach (affordably) before.

By implementing agricultural drone technology, farmers receive powerful analytics into the status of their crops, allowing them to cater to the needs of individuals fields and maximize their resources across all cultivable land.

UAVs are the ticket we to accelerate production moving forward, tapping into a more sustainable growing landscape and fulfilling human needs for years to come.

Author:

Kris Sibley with Chetu Inc

Kris Sibley is an industry expert within the Agriculture technology landscape at Chetu Inc. Custom software provider, augmentation accommodator and thought-leader within the programming community. He offers commentary on changing tides within the agricultural industry, and how drone technology can propel all facets of the agricultural forward.

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Drone Nodes is online communication platform that brings together experts&enthusiasts in drone research, start-ups, education and business across the globe.
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