Although drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) were first invented during the first World War, their potential has only been thoroughly explored in the recent past. Currently, the drone services market is estimated at USD 4.4 billion in 2019. This number is supposed to inflate to USD 63.6 billion by 2025, thereby clearly highlighting the potential of this technology.
When analyzing the precision farming sector, it's evident that drones and UAVs have begun to make a radical impact here as well. We look at the value of this technology in precision farming in the article below. We also examine farming practices developed alongside this technology, along with the various advantages and disadvantages associated with drone and UAV farming.
Agricultural drones are specialized aerial vehicles that can be operated remotely using a controller. They are often fitted with cameras or other load-carrying mechanisms and are capable of offering information to farmers or even execute on various tasks.
Agricultural drones and UAVs are being utilized in various segments of agriculture, and specifically in the field of precision agriculture due to their immense capabilities.
In order to be relevant in the field of agriculture, drones are fitted with various cameras such as infrared cameras or 3D mapping cameras. This allows the vehicles to utilize their flight to accumulate information from an aerial perspective and pass on this information to farmers in real-time.
Drones can also be fitted with various additional mechanisms that allow them to execute various tasks on behalf of the farmers. This includes the ability to plant seeds, spray insecticides, and even water the farmlands.
Thanks to the versatile services offered by agricultural drone technology, many methods have been recently developed to help farmers with their daily operations. We discuss the most common drone and UAV methods in farming below:
Managing livestock is a challenging task for farmers with immense spaces and animals numbering in the hundreds. In such situations, agricultural drones that are fitting with special thermal imaging cameras can be priceless in monitoring and managing the condition of the livestock.
It’s extremely easy for the agriculture drone operator to keep a tab on the health and wellbeing of the animals on the farm with the help of aerial devices. It can also be used for special circumstances such as when an animal is giving birth or if there is an emergency threat of predators in the region.
Until this point, monitoring the herd used to be an extremely expensive and time-intensive task. By making a one-time investment on a singular or set of drones, it now becomes relatively inexpensive for farmers to manage their livestock in the long run.
Crop cycles can be distinctively divided into three major segments — the beginning, middle, and end. Drones can be useful for each of these stages, allowing farmers to collect invaluable data across the year.
The use of drones in agriculture is being hyped because of remarkable developments such as 3D mapping technology. This allows farmers to study and analyze soil conditions in order to manage the nutritional levels and ensure that there are zero dead zones in their territory.
Based on the information provided by the UAVs, it becomes easy for farmers to make vital decisions regarding the best patterns of planting their crops, managing the types of crops grown, and a lot more.
Even the management of various resources such as water and fertilizers becomes incredibly easy with the use of drones and agriculture acumen.
When it comes to large farmlands, managing irrigation channels is often seen as one of the most complex challenges faced by farmers. To ease the burden in this department, drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras can be utilized to continually monitor and analyze the condition of the irrigation systems.
These drones can be used to quickly spot issues as soon as they arise, thereby helping prevent wastage of water and ensure that the losses are kept to a minimum. UAVs can also be effective in monitoring the moisture levels of the soil and informing farmers whenever certain sections require greater levels of attention and care.
In recent times, drones are also being used to maximize the potential of irrigation systems by paying close attention to the lay of the land. By using aerial footage, farmers can understand the natural runoff occurring on their farms, recognize regions that accumulate water, and even maximize the drainage capacity of their setup.
By focusing on upgrading their irrigation systems, farmers can prevent a lot of wastage and even accumulate substantial savings in the long run.
One of the newest applications that culminated agriculture drones and farming requirements has to do with the planting process. Until now, farmers have had to rely on manual methods to plant seeds across their farms.
Thanks to some ingenious innovations in agriculture drone technology, however, it is now possible to create customized drone systems that can deploy seed pods into the soil directly. DroneSeed is one such company that’s created UAVs capable of unloading 57 pounds of seeds, fertilizers, and even water to assist with the planting process in a single flight.
This helps free up enormous amounts of time that would otherwise be directed towards manual planting in farmlands. This process is often time-consuming, arduous, and expensive, but drones can help alleviate all these burdens.
Drones have been predominantly utilized for monitoring purposes, and this application can be carried over to farmlands as well. While satellites and planes have been traditionally used to offer large-scale overviews of farmlands until this point, drones can step in to fill the gaps left by these methods.
With the help of drones equipped with high-end camera systems, it becomes possible to attain real-time imagery of farms to help with daily issues that may arise on the ground level.
Monitoring large farmlands and conducting thorough surveys has never been easier thanks to the advent of agricultural drone technology. The keyword here is “real-time”, as there are several issues that may arise with the soil and crops that require immediate attention.
Drones can help farmers not only avoid numerous problems but even stay one step ahead of complications by continually monitoring their property.
Infrared sensors, for example, can be used to understand the health of various fruits and vegetables by paying attention to the light absorption capabilities of the crops.
Some of the other advantages of using drones in this department include:
Apart from planting and monitoring crops, drones can also be used for one other major task that’s often been troublesome for farmers in the past — crop spraying and spot spraying.
Most crops require consistent levels of fertilization across their cycles to maximize their yields. This is yet another expensive and time-intensive activity that also requires a large labor force.
Drones can be highly effective in this department as they can be programmed to spray the necessary insecticides, pesticides, and herbicides based on the schedule and requirements of farmers.
Apart from simply executing this task, drones can also greatly improve the efficiency of this process. Previously, the act of spraying pesticides and insecticides across farmlands was grossly inefficient and inconsistent, and this has an adverse effect on the soil, plants, and ecosystem.
Autonomous drones can be programmed to improve the accuracy and efficiency of this process, thereby reducing the use of fertilizers and even saving operating costs for farmers.
This technology can be coupled with monitoring technology to work double-time and prevent the outbreak of any diseases. Drones can be used to continually monitor crops to ensure their optimal health at all times. When a disease is detected, the same drones can be sent out to eliminate the problem by spraying the right liquids based on the requirements of the crops.
Spot spraying is yet another department where drones can be effectively deployed to solve various issues. Spot spraying of pesticides occurs in regions where there is excessive growth of weeds, or if only a section of the farmland is facing an infestation.
Tackling this problem would require round-the-clock monitoring by the farmers, and this used to be extremely tedious and time-consuming. With the help of UAVs, however, monitoring is conducted round the clock with no effort, and thus it becomes easier to isolate and fix specific issues arising on the farmland.
As with all new technologies, some positives and negatives need to be closely examined to maximize their potential. We look at the advantages and disadvantages of drones in agriculture in the segment below.
Drones can be priceless assets for farmers to help them with a wide range of tasks such as planting seeds, monitoring crop health, spraying various chemicals, assisting with precision irrigation optimization, and assessing threats. These functions were previously executed either by farmers or specialized laborers in traditional farming techniques.
A handful of drones, however, have the potential to ease the burden on the farmers and help reduce their operating and long-term costs substantially.
Agricultural drone technology is still in its nascent stage and there are plenty of segments where the technology can be improved upon. The first issue is the cost of the drones themselves as some of the best models can cost upwards of $25,000. This can be a hefty investment for the average farmer.
Additionally, even the flight time and range of most drones are not up to the requirement of modern farmers. If there are innovations made in these departments, then it’s possible for drones to quickly take over a vast majority of farming duties in the near future.
Farming is undoubtedly a strenuous activity that requires immense time and energy from the side of the farmers. Any technology developed to ease their burdens is seen as a great boon, and this is why drones and UAVs have become so popular in the recent past.
These agricultural drone innovations can be applied across a multitude of farming activities to ease the burden on a crucial segment of our population. By reducing the brunt of various physical tasks and offering real-time information to help farmers make informed decisions, drones hold the potential to revolutionize the agriculture sector.
In fact, it's safe to say that the drone technology revolution has already begun.