Drones have many applications. But one of the best and worthwhile applications of these mini- aero planes lies in the field of agriculture. We are living in a time when ensuring food security has become a global challenge and managing whatever little natural resource that we have to deal with the challenge has become our topmost priority. Introducing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) to help our farmers do just the right thing at the right time is perhaps the least we can do to help the world become more efficient.
What is an Agriculture Drone?
An agriculture drone is a specialized type of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle equipped with sensors and digital imaging capabilities, specifically used for the purpose of agricultural optimization. An agriculture drone allows farmers to monitor their crop fields from a different angle, making it easier to identify issues such as irrigation problems, soil variation, and pest and fungal infestations. The aerial view of crop fields that these UAVs can provide is much more reliable when it comes to gathering information about crop health than taking for granted what only human eyes can see.
Drone Farming and Benefits
Farming has always been a resource and labor-intensivetask for centuries. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that farmers will eventually be driven towards the adoption of technology in order to improve efficiency. The overall consumption of food products in recent decades has risen to all-time high and so has the production of crops worldwide. This means that the use of pesticides in lands has increased, soil conditions have deteriorated and as a result, the quality of the food products that we consume has significantly declined. The resource we have is limited, but there are a plethora of challenges to be met. And that is where the concept of drone farming comes in.
The biggest barrier to achieving higher efficiency for the farmers is their inability to access vital information about their crops at the right time, at a lower cost. The majority of farmers do not know which particular pest plagues their crop fields, which pesticides to use to get rid of it and what amount of pesticide should they be using to keep the soil still fertile for the next season. As a result, they rely on guesswork and end up wasting too much resources.
The usefulness of drones in driving up efficiency by solving these problems is unparalleled. By using drones, farmers can wave goodbye to all the guesswork they have been doing for centuries. It is true however that the farmers do not have any control over the weather or temperature surrounding their lands, but the primary key solution here is to gain the ability to adjust, the ability to extract information at just the right time so that they can take instantaneous decisions at any given situation.
Drones can offer a pool of information regarding the outbreak of certain crop diseases, the area of infection, the possible spread region, and the soil condition. By gaining access to this pool of information in real-time, farmers can choose the types of pesticides they need and calculate the amount they need. Thus, saving a significant amount of time and resource on farming.
Use of Drones in Agriculture
Enabling the farmers to make decisions with unparalleled accuracy and precision is not all that an agricultural drone can offer. There are a number of other benefits of drone farming which needs to be discussed here too.
Monitoring Plant Health
Many farmers around the world rely on satellite imagery to monitor plant health. But the cost of gaining access to satellite data is not something that many farmers in developing countries may find convenient. Moreover, satellite data can become distorted due to poor light conditions and cloud cover, rendering inaccurate information about crop health which would be of little or no use to the farmers.
Drones usually fly closer to the ground, meaning that they can provide more accurate data about plant’s health even in low light conditions and you don’t even have to consider cloud cover as a barrier. UAVs equipped with specialized imaging equipment called Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) have gained much popularity nowadays due to their ability to use color information to indicate plant health. By using such drones, farmers can identify issues more accurately as their plants grow and react almost instantly to save their plants.
Gathering Information About Field Condition
The most important prerequisite for growing crops is to know about the field /land which will be used for harvesting. Drones can be used for field mapping which can provide farmers with enough information about the field condition. Information such as field elevation, irregularities, nitrogen level can be easily determined only by equipping the drone with specialized sensors. These information can further help the farmers to determine drainage patterns and choose suitable fertilizer for their field.
Planting Trees and Sowing Seeds
Planting trees with using drones is much more efficient and safer. Farmers can use drones to plant trees and spread seeds in remote locations without having to endanger human workers. Using drones for plantation purposes is widespread nowadays in the forestry industry. Farmers too can gain a lot more from this in near future.
Traditional spraying techniques require a human worker to carry a backpack. Carrying sprays is not only hazardous to their health but also laborious because spraying involves navigating through remote areas across the field. It becomes even harder in high elevation areas and steep grounds like tea gardens. Using drones in such areas can increase spraying efficiency by more than 20%. In addition to that, using drone sprayers can help the farmers in reducing the cost of chemicals.
Types of Agriculture Drone
Drones are available in the market in all sizes and shapes. But you need to buy the one that suits your purpose. For the purpose of farming, drones are mainly available in two major body types –
As the name suggests, these drones have a pair of fixed wings and a single rotor. They are almost similar to a modern aircraft in design. Fixed-wing drones have gained more popularity among farmers due to their ability to cover a long distance during a single flight. The average flight duration of a fixed-wing drone is about 1 hour and can cover up to 200 to 300 acres during this time. They are faster, capable of flying at higher altitudes, and can carry more loads than the other type of drone.
Multi-rotor drones are the most common type of commercial UAVs in the market. These drones consist of a central chassis and a couple of propellers to control the speed and maintaining balance during flight. Based on the number of propellers, they can be classified into several other categories such as troopers (3 propellers), quadcopters (4 rotors), hex copters (6 rotors), and octocopters (8 rotors). These propellers or rotors offer the drone an enhanced degree of precision while operating. Multi-rotors are cheaper and easy to manufacture compared to fixed-wing drones.
While the multi-rotors allow for better control, they are not as fast as fixed-wing drones. Multi-rotor UAVs also lag in flight range, duration, and payload capacity compared to fixed-wing drones.
Read: Different Types of Drones Explained
How Much is an Agriculture Drone?
It may cost you anything between $1500-$20000 to buy a commercial grade spraying drone. The price depends entirely on the configuration of the drone. The better the configurations, the higher the price.
Top Companies in Agriculture Drone Market
Microdrone GmbH is engaged in developing, manufacturing, supplying and customizing UAVs for research, surveillance, photography, rescue, inspection, mapping and surveying purpose across the globe. The company was founded in 2005 in Germany and now has its wings spread across the North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and Middle East and Africa.
American Robotics. Inc
American Robotics. Inc is famous for supplying high-tech robotic machinery solutions worldwide. Apart from developing and manufacturing robotic machinery products, the company also offers practical drone systems for agricultural use. ‘Scout’, one of the most popular agriculture drones for ‘precision agriculture’ was developed by this US based company.
The company offers everything from drones to sensors to software packages for agricultural purpose as well as drone pilot network, consulting, flight servicing, and training services for other industries. In 2019, PrecisionHawk. Inc. launched PrecisionAnalytics Agriculture, an agronomy platform for precision agriculture where farmers can carry out mapping, modeling of their fields. The company is headquartered in the US but has its presence across the North America, Australia, the U.K., and Argentina.
DJI Technology Co.
The company specializes in manufacturing aerial photography devices. The Company offers innovative drone and camera technology for agriculture, film making, conservation, search and rescue, and energy infrastructure sectors. Headquartered in China, the company has its international presence in the North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and Middle East and Africa.
The French company Parrot S.A. is engaged in developing and manufacturing consumer products for smartphones, tablets as well as offering technological solutions for UAVs. Worldwide. The company also manufactures commercial drones, drone machineries and spare parts. Headquartered in Paris, the company has its wings in the North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, and Middle East and Africa.
Agricultural Drone Pros
- Field data collection by drones are more reliable, accurate and less costly than accessing data from satellite.
- Drones can fly at a lower altitude, meaning that multispectral surveys can be carried with much more precision than before using drones.
- Drones can fly faster and cover more areas than human can do in a given time period. This means that by using drones, farmers can have access to information by spending less time and resources.
- Drones are easy to deploy and easy to operate. It is by far multiple times convenient than deploying a manned aircraft.
- Using drones for crop spraying has both the economic and health benefits to the farmers. Drone spraying can reduce chemical cost by 30%-40% and save water up to 90%.
- By identifying problems at the right time, farmers can take quick decisions regarding pesticide usage, spray time and crop nutrition. Thus, operational cost of farming can be reduced.
Agricultural Drone Cons
- Initial investment is high compared to other methods.
- Using a drone to improve farm management falls under the category of commercial drone usage in many countries. So, you will require to get yourself certified under the FAA’s Part 107 rules before you want to fly your drone over your field.
- Drones are lightweight vehicles. So, extreme weather conditions can affect its trip to the sky.
- The flight time and range of agriculture drones are limited.
- You need a certain level of skills to fly your own agriculture drone.
Top 5 Agriculture Drones
SenseFly eBee SQ
Developed by French Tech giant Parrot, this agricultural drone can cover up to 500 acres in a single flight. The average flight time of the drone is 55 minutes and it can fly very fast. The drone is capable of capturing multi-spectral and visual data from the field in a matter of minutes, giving the farmers the convenience of spending less time in gathering data and more time to act.
PrecisionHawk Lancaster 5
PrecisionHawk Lancaster 5 is a fixed-wing aerial drone developed by renowned tech company PrecisionHawk. The drone is equipped with AI sensors that allow it to adjust wing span, payloads according to the temperature, humidity, and light conditions in the weather. The drone has a flight range of 1.2 miles and a flight duration of 45 minutes. The drone is very strongly built and its AI sensors make it the perfect agriculture drone in any weather condition.
Sentera Omni Ag
This multi-rotor, versatile Omni agriculture drone is paired with a Double 4K sensor. If your purpose is to scout or monitor crops from a close distance, this one is the perfect UAV for you. The drone also allows growers to scout crops using a gimbaled. The drone is capable of capturing high-resolution, normalized difference vegetation (NDVI) and near-infrared (NIR) for the ease of data collection, interpretation and making the right decision.
The highly advanced UX5 drones are manufactured by the French tech company Trimble. The UX5 can capture data down to a 2cm/pixel resolution using an optional MicaSenseRedEdge or 24MP visual camera. The drone can operate in the harshest of environments thanks to its rugged design.
This UAV is developed by Lockheed Martin. The multi-rotor drone can cover 75 acres per flight and has a flight time of about 45 minutes. This is almost double that of any other quadcopter.
Read More: Best Drones for Agriculture and Farming
The use of drones in agriculture is perhaps the most impactful application of the technology. Drones have so many things to offer to the farmers, from land surveying to efficient farm management, every aspect of modern agriculture can be revolutionized using drones.
Feature Image by Pixabay