Farmers and agriculturists are always looking for cheap and effective methods to regularly monitor their crops. The infrared sensors in drones can be tuned to detect crop health, enabling farmers to react and improve crop conditions locally, with inputs of fertilizer or insecticides. It also improves management and effectuates better yield of the crops. In the next few years, nearly 80% of the agricultural market will comprise of drones.
How Drones are used in agriculture?
Drones can help farmers to optimize the use of inputs (seed, fertilizers, water), to react more quickly to threats (weeds, pests, fungi), to save time crop scouting (validate treatment/actions taken), to improve variable-rate prescriptions in real time and estimate yield from a field.
Soil and field analysis:
Drones can be instrumental at the start of the crop cycle. They produce precise 3-D maps for early soil analysis, useful in planning seed planting patterns. After planting, drone-driven soil analysis provides data for irrigation and nitrogen-level management.
Startups have created drone-planting systems that achieve an uptake rate of 75 percent and decrease planting costs by 85 percent. These systems shoot pods with seeds and plant nutrients into the soil, providing the plant all the nutrients necessary to sustain life.
Drones can scan the ground and spray the correct amount of liquid, modulating distance from the ground and spraying in real time for even coverage. The result: increased efficiency with a reduction of in the amount of chemicals penetrating into groundwater. In fact, experts estimate that aerial spraying can be completed up to five times faster with drones than with traditional machinery.
Vast fields and low efficiency in crop monitoring together create challenges are exacerbated by increasingly unpredictable weather conditions, which drive risk and field maintenance costs.
Drones with hyper-spectral, multispectral, or thermal sensors can identify which parts of a field are dry or need improvements. Additionally, once the crop is growing, drones allow the calculation of the vegetation index, which describes the relative density and health of the crop, and show the heat signature, the amount of energy or heat the crop emits.
Crop health assessment:
Plants reflect visible & near-infrared light and its intensity varies with health status and stress levels experienced by plants. Drones fitted with sensors capable of scanning crops using visible and near infrared light can be used to track crop health over period of time and also to monitor response to remedied measures.
It is nearly impossible to estimate the overall state of crops in large fields. Drones based agriculture mapping can help farmers remain area-wise updated on the plants status and point out which field areas require attention. Drones inspect the field with infrared cameras and determine light absorption rates to estimate the state of crops. Based on real time and accurate information, farmers can take measures to improve the state of plants in any spot of the field. This feature of crop surveillance and crop health assessment also forms the basis of the use of drones for enhancing agricultural insurance tools for cross verifying farmers’ insurance claims. However, financial implications vis a vis insurance model adopted and practical possibilities will decide the future potential use.
Controlling weed, insect, pest and diseases:
Apart from soil conditions, drones can also detect and inform farmers about field areas inflicted by weeds, disease and insect pests. Based on this information, farmers can optimize the use of chemicals needed to fight infestations, hence reducing the expenses and also contribute to better field health.
Tree/crop biomass estimation:
Crop/tree canopy density and distance from ground surface can be measured using ultra compact LiDAR sensors mounted on drones. This enables estimation of the tree/crop biomass change derived from differential height measurements that forms the basis for estimating timber production in forest and production estimates in crops like sugarcane.
Birds are the major problem after sowing seeds of many crops. This needs labour to protect the field. A couple of drone flights can scare the birds away from field.