While drones will impact many industries, most agree that agriculture will be one of the industries impacted most.
Farming accounts for about 70% of global water usage. Most experts think this is unsustainable. Using drones, farmers can inexpensively survey crops to better allocate water and fertilizer. Studies show this can raise food yields over 25% while decreasing water usage by 40%.
How can drones help in agriculture? Consider “precision agriculture.”
Precision agriculture (PA) or satellite farming or site specific crop management (SSCM) is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops.
With precision agriculture predating the “drone revolution,” we should have already seen dramatic improvements in agricultural yields and reductions in water consumption, right? Well, it hasn’t quite lived up to the hype.
For years now, drone advocates have cited precision agriculture—crop management that uses GPS and big data—as a way to boost crop yields and profits while resolving water and food crises. Unfortunately, for all the hype surrounding the concept drones haven’t had a significant impact on the agriculture business, at least, until now.
Precision agriculture is dependant on data, and drones provides new ways to rapidly capture detailed agricultural data. Thanks to drones, precision agriculture may deliver on its original promises.
Are you curious to learn how drones are being used “in the field?” Dronelife has identified five ways drones are already helping farmers.
Mid-Season Crop Health Monitoring (aka Scouting): The ability to inspect in-progress crops from on high with Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI) or near-infrared (NIR) sensors is, thus far, the #1 use for drones in farming. A task that traditionally was done by often-reluctant college interns walking fields with notepad in hand, drones like SenseFly’s eBee Ag now allow for coverage of more acres, as well as the capturing of data that cannot be seen by the human eye (NDVI). Plus, it removes much of the human error aspect of traditional scouting, though physically inspecting areas of concern after viewing the imagery, is still recommended.
Irrigation Equipment Monitoring: Managing multiple irrigation pivots is… well, it’s a pain, especially for large growers that have many fields spread out across a county or region. Once crops like corn begin reaching certain heights, mid-season inspections of the nozzles and sprinklers on irrigation equipment that deliver much-needed water really becomes a pain-in-the-you-know-what.
Mid-Field Weed Identification: Using NDVI sensor data and post-flight image processing to create a weed map, growers and their agronomists can easily differentiate areas of high-intensity weed proliferation from the healthy crops growing right alongside them. Historically, many growers haven’t realized how pronounced their weed problem was until harvest time.
Variable-Rate Fertility: Although many will argue ground-based or satellite imagery, along with a dedicated grid soil sampling program, are more practical for the purpose of refining Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium applications in agriculture, drones do have their fit. Agribotix, a Boulder, CO-based ag drone service startup, has used NDVI maps to direct in-season fertilizer applications on corn and other crops. By using drone-generated, variable-rate application (VRA) maps to determine the strength of nutrient uptake within a single field, the farmer can apply 60 pounds of fertilizer to the struggling areas, 50 pounds to the medium areas, and 40 pounds to the healthy areas, decreasing fertilizer costs and boosting yields.
Cattle Herd Monitoring: Many growers during the days of depressed commodity prices in the late-90s to early 2000s made the call to diversify their farms by adding cattle or swine operations. Drones are a solid option for monitoring herds from overhead, tracking the quantity and activity level of animals on one’s property. And they are especially helpful for night-time monitoring due to the human eye’s inability thus far to evolve to the point of seeing in the dark.
As more people realize the benefit of drone collected precision agriculture data, new jobs will be created. If you’d like to be strategically positioned for these new job opportunities then consider a drone college course focused on GIS/Mapping? Drone Universities offers a Drone GIS/Mapping course.