The use of drones in almost all sectors of the economy is growing rapidly, but the use of drones in agriculture is on the rise. According to some reports, the agricultural drone market is projected to grow from $ 1.2 billion (USD) in 2019 to $ 4.8 billion in 2024. From exploration to safety, the use of drones will be ubiquitous on farms both large and small in a few years. The information that is collected by the use of drones on farms is very useful as it is used to make better agronomic decisions and is part of a system commonly known as “precision agriculture.”
The use of drones has already become an essential part of large-scale precision agriculture operations in many areas. The data collected from the fields by drones help farmers plan their plantings and treatments to obtain the best possible yields. Some reports suggest that the use of precision farming systems can increase yields by up to 5%, which represents a significant increase in an industry with typically low-profit margins.
In this blog, we will take a look at what drone is, how it came in handy in agricultural activities. Also, we will see few areas where agricultural drones are already used and some unexplored areas where agricultural drones can be used.in agriculture.
What are drones?
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, are small aerial platforms that weigh up to 20 kg (50 pounds). Due to their size, they cannot (yet) be scaled by a human body. Drones can be operated in two ways; direct, where a human has complete control of the vehicle through a wireless remote control; and autonomous, in which the vehicle can drive itself and follow a route based on data from GPS or other sensors.
There are many different types of UAVs and they can be divided into the following groups:
Fixed-wing: Very easy to control the vehicle. It is shaped like an immovable wing and a propeller that facilitates progress. Due to its construction, it must always move in relation to the surrounding air to stay aloft. Therefore, its operation can be strongly influenced by the wind. Another limiting factor is that larger drones need some type of runway that can be used for deployment and recovery, while smaller drones can be hand-launched and recovered by landing on a soft surface.
Rotating wing: The most common type of drone. It looks like a small helicopter as it has multiple rotors (usually 48). Due to its rotation system, the drone has the ability to float and can extend and recover vertically. The helicopter has some advantages over the other types. It is small and easy to transport and less prone to mechanical failure. However, the main drawbacks are the limited charging capacity, as well as the battery life, which is limited to 15 minutes or less of flight time.
The tethered vehicle: It is an ordinary drone that connects to a cable to make a remote control superfluous. Therefore, the drone’s movement is restricted according to the strap. Also, tethered drones have many different variations. They can range from a standard drone that moves along the line to a drone that is connected with a microfilament cable to an installed power system for unlimited flight.
Lighter-than-air (LTA): These vehicles include airships and other typical helium-filled vehicles that are tethered to some type of cable. Their main drawbacks are that they are difficult to transport due to their size and the fact that they cannot tolerate even moderate wind speeds. Therefore, LTA drones are used less in agriculture.
Plant health monitoring/exploration
One of the applications for drone imaging that has already been introduced with great success is plant health monitoring. Drones equipped with special imaging equipment called the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) use detailed colour information to indicate plant health. This was agricultural drones allow farmers to monitor crops as they grow on a daily basis, so any problems can be solved quickly enough to save the crops. This image simply illustrates how NDVI works. 4,444 drones with “normal” cameras are also used to monitor plant health. Many farmers already use satellite imagery to monitor crop growth, density, and coloration, but accessing satellite data is expensive and in many cases not as effective as closer drone imagery. Since drones fly close to fields, cloud cover and poor lighting are less of a factor than when using satellite imagery. Satellite imagery can provide meter accuracy, but drone imagery is capable of producing image position with pinpoint accuracy. In this way, after planting, patchy areas can be recognized and replanted if necessary, and disease or pest problems can be recognized and treated immediately.
Field condition monitoring
Drone field monitoring is also used to monitor soil conditions and field conditions. Drones can provide accurate field mappings, including elevation information, allowing farmers to find irregularities in the field. To determine the information regarding drainage patterns and wet/dry spots, which will allow for more efficient irrigation techniques. Agricultural drones are necessary. Some agricultural drone dealers and service providers also offer soil nitrogen monitoring with improved sensors. This allows for the precise application of fertilizers, removes bad growth spots, and improves soil health for years to come.
Planting and sowing
One of the newer and less common uses of drones in agriculture is planting seeds. Drone drills are currently used primarily in forestry, but the potential for wider use is emerging. By planting with drones, even hard-to-reach areas can be replanted without endangering workers. Furthermore, with a team of two operators and ten drones that can plant 400,000 trees a day, they can plant much more efficiently.
The use of agricultural drones to do spray treatments is already widespread in Southeast Asia. With South Korea using drones for approximately 30% of its agricultural spray work. Drone syringes can navigate areas that are very difficult to access, such as B. steep tea fields at high altitudes. Drone sprayers prevent workers from having to drive to fields with backpack sprayers, which can endanger their health. Drone sprayers offer very fine spray applications that can be targeted to specific areas to maximize efficiency and save chemical costs. Currently, regulations for drone sprinklers vary greatly between countries. They are not currently legal in Canada as further testing will be required to understand the effects of spray drift. Some proposed regulations recommend that only trained professionals be used with flying spray drones, as is the case with Yamaha, which does not sell the spray drones they make, but instead, rents spray drone services entirely too licensed operators.
Drone security is a fast growing industry in addition to agriculture, but it is also extremely useful for farm management. Using drones to monitor the vastness of a farm without having to travel to the farm saves valuable time and allows more frequent monitoring of hard-to-reach areas. Drone cameras can provide an overview of the farm throughout the day to ensure smooth operation and locate used equipment. Security drones can be used to monitor fences and fences of more valuable plants like cannabis, rather than employing more security guards. Drone cameras are also used in interesting ways to protect livestock by locating lost or injured herd animals in distant grazing areas. Surveillance of remote areas that used to require hours of walking can now be completed in minutes.
Pollination with drones
Some of the newer applications for the use of drones in agriculture are still being tested and developed. One of the most published (and often fictionalized) applications is pollinator drone technology. Researchers from the Netherlands and Japan are developing small drones that can pollinate plants without damaging them. The next step is to develop autonomous pollination drones that work without constant instructions from the operator and monitor the health of the plants.
Another drone technology in development also includes machine learning. Improving artificial intelligence (AI) in drones is important to make them more useful to small farmers in developing countries. Current drone technologies are more effective at monitoring known crops such as corn grown in large monoculture field patterns. In its current form, drone surveillance programs are struggling to identify areas of a greater diversity of plants, lesser-known products, and grains that look similar in their growth stages and are therefore less effective at monitoring growth and plant health. More work is needed to train artificial intelligence systems to recognize the least common plants and the most diverse planting patterns.
New research from Australia is also creating exciting possibilities for the use of drones in agriculture. As climate change increasingly affects drought conditions, creating more efficient irrigation solutions is critical. With the help of microwave detection, drones can collect very accurate information about soil health, including moisture levels, without plants getting in the way. This means that water can be distributed in a field in the most efficient and resource-efficient way possible.