Drones are Revolutionizing Agriculture

10 Ways Drones are Revolutionizing Agriculture

It is highly probable that you are acquainted with what drones are and what their dominant purpose is actually. While there are people who are employing them for aerial reconnaissance and others who simply use them for recreational sport, farmers and agriculture experts are gradually getting to know the humongous ramifications these aerial vehicles could have on land management. Drones have emerged as an integral part of futuristic farming, a practice that is also known as smart or intelligent farming. It is essentially a wholesome, software-based methodology to ensure enhanced yield.

With an increasing population, it has become exceptionally crucial to spur food production by almost 70% to ensure provision of food to all, thereby making it all the more important for the agricultural industry to bolster its productivity and get higher yields at a far greater speed.

Drones offer a possibility never imagined before to manage crops and livestock with enhanced precision and hence assist farmers to broaden their production without adversely affecting the quality of crops. Drones are able to bring into use the types of remote sensing technology that once was considered possible only through satellite connectivity or a manned aircraft.

1 – Fighting Crop Diseases

Unmanned aerial vehicles are being employed by drones to gauge their farming methodologies and bringing into use data technology for mapping and spraying their crops, to ensure that they get exactly what they require to remain healthy.

No less than 40% of yield obtained from crops goes to waste due to the diseases inflicted on them. This can be prevented by using drones along with other high powered resources besides dedicating more time to overcome this issue. Drones enable farmers to monitor fields on a regular basis and hence assess with greater accuracy for symptoms of diseases and evaluate the severity of these symptoms.

The data obtained in the shape of aerial photographs thanks to drones is compared and then a detailed analysis is carried out to ascertain the efficacy of drones. Once the drone’s efficacy has been ascertained, they are set floating in the air above the fields and broadcast the data back to the farmers, continuously collating crucial parameters to ensure that the plants remain healthy.

Eventually, drones are used to identify the symptoms of decay that may not be discernible otherwise by human eye thanks to the sophisticated intelligent sensors integrated in UAVs. The information thus obtained can be utilized to point out diseases in crops before they succumb to infections immediately.

The ability to spray crops at the right time while targeting the appropriate points ensures that fungicides prove to be the most effective and hence result in higher yields. This can be exceptionally crucial in fighting the negative impact of climate change. With the modifications in climate, these aerial vehicles detect stress levels, thereby assisting in tweaking conditions and hence restoring homeostasis.

Multispectral cameras equipped with high quality filters are built in these drones to capture reflected light from the selected portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. The multiple lenses and filters provide farmers with the opportunity to keep active oversight over crop health, which was never even imagined before.

2 – Food Security

The cultivable land in the world is decreasing with a rapid increase in its population with every passing day and malnutrition is becoming an ominous issue. Plants and animals are the major source of food for human beings. In the times to come, food security is going to become an important issue to tackle for both the developed as well as the developing countries.

Agriculture and livestock will serve as the bedrock in the days to come when the humans face this existential threat. Agriculture and livestock farming can be recreated with the help of drones by maximizing inputs, time, labor and cost. Productivity can be boosted massively thanks to intelligent farming. Drones are being used in seeding, irrigation, accurate fertilization, harvesting, identifying soil health and pointing out plant height.

When it comes to livestock management, drones can be used to identify sick animals, assess pasture quality and keep an eye on the animals. By improving soil health, drone can play an important role amidst the growing fears of climate change.

Drones are able to inspect the land to detect its parts that are deficient of different nutrients such as nitrogen. The Committee on World Food Security believes that precision agriculture is based on applying the right inputs at an appropriate time, at the right spot and in accordance with the prescribed quantity in the areas that are considered troublesome.

As healthy soil is believed to absorb carbon dioxide, drones indirectly contribute to the reduction in carbon and hence play a crucial part in mitigating the negative impact of climate change. By latching onto modernized and smart ways of farming, drones could be instrumental in getting rid of food crises all over the world.

3 – Fertilizer

Experts have been successful in ascertaining that drones can help farmers in applying fertilizers in a minimal amount of time in comparison with humans. All the necessary farming procedures can be carried out by drones in a matter of a few minutes, thereby bolstering productivity in the face of rising demands put towards the agricultural industry worldwide. Drones will go a long way in improving productivity and optimizing growth. By formulating satellite maps, drones assist farmers in making significant decisions regarding their fertilization distribution.

By comprehending fertilizer requirements, costs can be reduced significantly and hence profit margins can witness a considerable increase as fertilizers are believed to constitute at least 50% of input costs. By bringing into use the high-end sensors integrated in drones, farmers can stay updated with the places where nutrients are being applied and locate the spots where more nutrients are required. This would ensure that fertilizers are applied at the locations where plants dominantly need them.

Yields can be increased drastically thanks to the modernization and mechanization in the agricultural sector. The use of water is also important in ensuring fertilizer precision, letting the farmer know the amount of fertilizer to be applied using the data to modify irrigation and hence preserve water without wasting it.

With the help of drones, excess fertilizer can be prevented from running into ravines or streams in the vicinity. The reduced amount of fertilizer permeating river water would in turn decrease algal growth and dead areas in our water systems around the globe.

4 – Herbicide

Modern day drones are equipped with cameras that ensure that weed killer chemicals are only sprayed at parts of the plant which require them the most, rather than having to sprinkle them at the entire field. The camera detects part of the light spectrum that correlates to the existence of weeds in crops. The information is communicated to the sharecropper where it is used to map out the field and detect the location of the issue.

Once the area has been inspected, a farmer visits the field manually to survey it before spraying the herbicides. Drones ensure that the time required to complete their procedure is exceptionally reduced. Hence, a task which typically requires hours to complete can be gotten over within a matter of a few minutes. Traditionally, a farmer either has to survey the entire field on foot or ride a vehicle. However, as time passes on, plants grow and it becomes even harder to cover more ground and ascertain precision.

Today, there are larger drones that can carry as much as 20 liters of pesticides that follow a predetermined trajectory to target preset spray-safe areas. Hence, drones could substitute manual labor and exterminate the risks associated with backpack sprayers. More than 10,000 trained operators are employing commercial spraying drones to manage their workload.

5 – Insecticide

Mosquitoes typically do not seem to be much of a problem to farming other than being frustrating for humans working in the fields. However, their ability to transmit diseases has given rise to debate on the use of drones for insecticide distribution. There have been suggestions regarding low altitude aerial sprays to limit mosquito growth and farmers have been very keen on it.

Insects that can chew are likely to create holes in foliage, leaf skeletonizing, lead defoliation or even destroying the roots of plants. Insects who feed on stems can damage stems of crops. Also, when plants lay eggs in plant’s tissues, it can damage them and hence weaken their stems or branches.

Also, plants can transmit diseases called vectors which can bite into one’s monetary gains. Drones work in a similar manner in case of insects as they do in case of weeds. The drones swarm over the entire field to detect areas at risk and spray over those locations. Thanks to the ability to detect insects, drones greatly reduce the amount of insecticides and hence instead of spraying them over the entire fields, targeted distribution of insecticides leads to their decreased drainage into water bodies.

6 – Near Infrared (NIR) Sensors

Near Infrared (NIR) Sensors are employed by developers to keep track of important metrics in the manufacturing process. These optical gadgets help in making precise, reliable and rigorous measurements. By applying trustworthy geometric approaches, the requisite problematic areas are identified in accordance with a particular measurement.

Some of these parameters include ambient lighting, relative humidity, product height variations, differences in seasons and ambivalent colors. Quality assurance is greatly enhanced thanks to Near Infrared (NIR) sensors.

When it comes to agriculture, NIR sensors are based on the interplay between electromagnetic radiation and soil or plant material. These high quality sophisticated camera sensors loaded on agricultural drones enable the farmer to keep an eye at the crops, soil, fertilizer distribution, irrigation and other critical aspects.

Conventionally, remote sensing is centered on the quantification of radiation reflected from agricultural land instead of that being absorbed by it. Reflection from plants is greater in the NIR segment owing to the leaf density and canopy structure ramifications.

Red wavelengths correspond to a wide array of plant health issues including fungal pathogens, excess salt and deficiency of nutrients. Farmers can use NIR technology to monitor, strategize and look after their farms in an effective manner, thereby saving time, effort and cost.

7 – Thermal Cameras

A drone integrated with a thermal imaging camera can serve as a handy tool as it detects heat evicted from all objects or materials which are then converted into images or videos. Thermal energy is emitted from objects of all kinds. More thermal energy is emitted from hotter objects and is called a “heat signature”.

The wavelength and frequency of radiation is affected by temperature. In a thermal visual, the radiation around an object is the energy emitted from a variety of wavelengths.

With the increase in an object’s temperature, the wavelengths within the ranges of emitted radiation decrease. Thermal imaging cameras can also prove to be effective for farmers owning cattle as these devices keep an eye at their livestock besides ensuring that they are not attacked by wild animals.

The cameras can be configured to detect the variation between hot or cold ground and have the ability to access areas that are typically not easy to reach or view with the naked eye.

Thanks to the thermal measurements, the areas of the field which are over-irrigated or under-irrigated can be identified. Traditionally, probing and digging has been used to identify drainage which is quite a time-consuming process. Drones enable farmers to get information regarding these crucial factors from the comfort of their homes.

8 – Artificial Intelligence

Drone technology is likely to serve as a massive revamp for the agriculture industry as the farmers would be able to make appropriate plans based on real time data collection and processing.

According to estimates by PwC, the market for drone influenced solutions in agriculture is expected to reach a whopping $32.4 billion. This technology would be employed for soil and field analysis, planting, crop spraying, monitoring, irrigation and health assessment of plants.

The future holds promising prospects for UAVs as we should be expecting fleets of automated drones that are equipped to carry out agricultural monitoring operations as well as data collection. Safety considerations, infringement of privacy of individuals and insurance coverage are few of the hurdles that are still hampering the progress of this amazing technology in agriculture. The use of this technology has to be strictly regulated by imposition of requisite laws to ensure that it is only used for business purposes.

Predictive analysis is one of the primary applications of artificial intelligence in the agricultural industry. This technology enables drones to monitor and forecast myriad environmental ramifications on crop growth such as weather changes. According to experts, three out of four farmers in the future are expected to latch onto this technology in the days to come.

The disruption created by drones in the agricultural sector will bring about a massive upheaval in the way farmers strategize their future production approaches and even figure out the best areas that are likely to optimize their yield. Artificial intelligence involves the automated configuration of drones around a set of metrics and have these devices carry out tasks in accordance with these parameters.

9 – Pollination

Plants reproduce thanks to the natural process of pollination. Pollen contains a plant’s genetic material and travels from the male part of a plant to its female part to attain fertilization.

More than 75% of the world’s crops such as apples, carrots and tomatoes rely on pollination. According to estimates, between $235 billion and $577 billion per annum worth of food produced is due to pollination. Owing to the decrease in bee population, manufacturers have been developing greenhouse drones to produce artificial pollination.

Loss of habitat, pathogens, parasites and climate change are few of the factors responsible for the reduction in bee population. There are cross-pollinating and self-pollinating drones out there that can gather and map greenhouse environmental data.

The Autonomous Pollination and Imaging System (APIS) has been developed to assist self-pollination crops such as tomatoes. The drone equipped with a camera locates flowers and releases a stream of air that vibrates a branch of flower, captures its image to determine if pollination has been achieved and analyzes the rate of success. The objective is not to substitute natural pollination but to complement it with the help of drones.

10 – Planting Seeds

The development of modern day drone technology has greatly reduced costs associated with planting seeds. BioCarbon Engineering has a fleet of drones that is capable of planting no less than 100,000 trees per day. These UAVs fly over the target area to collect relevant information to drop seed pods in areas which are likely to prove more productive.

Once the seeds have been planted, soil is examined with the help of drones to determine irrigation and nitrogen level monitoring. This procedure of planting seeds is almost ten times faster than manual methods and costs are cut by almost half.

Innovation in the agriculture industry is the only way to get the world out of the existential quagmire of food security that it is currently facing. It is imperative that our growing approaches and land management become precise to the highest possible extent. Drones hover over the land and view its perspective that is not visible for the naked eye and hence assist in collecting valuable data.

Drones enable farmers to get access to crucial parameters related to the growth of their plants and hence treat their crops through personalized techniques and hence optimize their yield. UAVs are a thing of the future that would assist in tapping the hitherto unrealized potential of landscape and fulfill human needs for years to come.

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