Drones in Agriculture | A Way To Progressive Farming

Agricultural drones can monitor crops anywhere with high accuracy in data delivery. With a high global supply and a record low in raw material prices as a result of the growing demand for food production and consumption, modern agriculture is at a revolutionary point.

Farmers and agronomists around the world need better resource management in response to tight budgets, more than ever. While the farm-to-fork movement has come under increasing pressure to improve traceability. Consumers become increasingly interested in knowing the origins of the food products they buy and how they are cultivated.

Effect of Climate Change

Besides, change in climate continues to generate new difficulties for the agricultural industry in the security of the food supply-chain. Instantly changing environmental-conditions worsen these problems, and recent data shows that total agricultural losses in Europe from a change in climate could be up to 16% by the year 2050.

Indeed, enhancing sustainability resilience parameters to minimalize the impact on the physical health and wellbeing of people and the planet will continue to be a priority. Especially as improved resilience can also bring added economical benefits by allowing agricultural professionals to utilize their capitals and labors more efficiently.

Role of Technology in Sustainable Agriculture

Precision technology through technology enables farmers to optimize both productivity and profit-ability of the farm, based on realtime field informations, thus shielding the environment, which could be a turning-point for farmers to succeed. Agriculture is undergoing substantial changes in its efforts to produce sufficient food and food products and to remain sustainable.

In this new era, agriculturalists now can use a wide variety of high-tech GPS-based sensor devices, fertilizer application systems, guidance and remote sensing systems, and farm managing software’s. The introduction and usage of up-to-date and accurate agricultural technologies are revolutionizing agriculture. In other-words, modern agricultural technology is revolutionizing the way farmers work.

Despite a long human history of experimentation with drones, the current development of the consumer-and-professional drones’ market has made significant growth. The growth is recorded as $85 bn in 2016 and is expected to rise to $12 bn by 2021.

What is Drone?

Commonly known drones (Unmanned aerial-vehicles (UAVs), are small flying devices weighing up to 20kg. Because of their small size, the passenger caring is not yet feasible. There are two ways to control drones. (i) direct – a person completely controls wire-less remote and (ii) automatically, the drone control itself and follow a GPS based route.

Drone market

Currently, the drone industry is very saturated, in addition to the manufacturers, numerous software developers, and industries. Many companies typically use drones from manufacturers like DJI or Parrot to develop additional hardware’s, software’s, or exclusive hybrid solutions according to specific usage industry.

Diversity in Drones

The different models of drones are present in the market which makes the market highly heterogeneous. There are several types of drones are available by a single company. For easy understanding, the drones can be categorized by size.

  • Small drones (size of insect)
  • Large drones (load carriers)

types of drones

The Adoption of Drones in Agriculture

The use of drones in agriculture is consistently developing as a component of a viable way to deal with sustainable agriculture. This permits agronomists, rural architects, and ranchers to help smooth out their tasks, utilizing vigorous information to increase their yields.

The effort to monitor crop, for instance, is become simpler by utilizing drone information to precisely plan and make progressing enhancements. For example, the utilization of trench and manure application planning became very easy because of the use of agricultural drones. Products can be precisely followed by farm-to-fork utilizing GPS mapping, instead of traditional methods and labor activities.

Agricultural drones are especially helpful for the efficient observation of huge farmlands, considering variables, for example, slopes and elevations. For instance, to develop the most effective land preparation and cultivation strategies. The innovation has additionally demonstrated valuable in increasing a broad diagram of plant development and population, as more exact information can help with replanting choices, just as pruning and thinning activities.

It is of most importance that high-resolution drone data can be used to assess the fertility of the plants. Agricultural professionals can fertilize more precisely, reduce losses, plan irrigation systems, and correct errors. This technology can also be particularly effective after natural disasters such as floods in helping farmers assess damage in an area that may be difficult to reach on foot.

Agricultural technology is constantly developing. The collection of accurate and reliable geo-referenced data based on GPS, as well as by the use of drones is a crucial aspect of precision cropping and farming that can improve both farm profitability and productivity.

Drone’s Crop Data Delivery

A drone is a small and light-weight aircraft that fly at very high altitude and can hold numerous navigation systems and data gathering equipments such as RGB camera, infra-red camera, and other sensors. Agricultural drones are very useful thanks to their ability to deploy a wide variety of sensors and provide high resolution, low cost images of plant health and agricultural fields.

Initially, drones in agriculture were used for chemical (pesticides, insecticides, or nutrient) spraying, drones are now an excellent tool for taking aerial photos with platform-mounted cameras and GPS sensors. The image quality can range from simple-photos with visible light to multispectral images that can be utilized to assess various characteristics of the health of plants, the effect of weeds, and yield.

Agricultural drones collect data in basic algorithms and later turn them into understandable useful information. Drones can be used for monitoring specific parameters, for example:

Crop Health: pest attack, pathogenic infections, climatic effects, etc.

Vegetation Indices: irregularity detection, leaf development, treatment effectiveness, yield, etc.

Plant Height: growth efficiency, height, density, etc.

Plant Scouting: size, standing plants, plots, unfilled plots, planter-skips, etc.

Water Needs: stressed areas and water standing areas, etc.

Soil Analysis: infections, nutrient deficiency, and availability, etc.

Precision Agriculture

Precision farming can assist farmers to make better decisions that have transformed significantly in recent years, and the global market is estimated to be at $ 43.4 billion by the year 2025. The use of drones in agriculture can play an increasingly important role in precision farming, assisting agricultural professionals in leading the way to sustainable agriculture, increasing crop protection, and profitability.

The use of GPS-technology along with geographic information-system (GIS) tools forms an essential component of these precision agricultural practices and enables small-scale monitoring and mapping of yield and crop data of the fields.

They offer more intense and efficient farming methods that farmers can use to adjust fertilizers, identify diseases, and pests attack before they spread. As much data about the fields a farmer can get, the more efficiently he can plan economically and environmentally. For example, by optimized use of fertilizers, a farmer can achieve a significant reduction in cost and environmental savings.

Current Use of Drones in Agriculture

Fertilizer Planning

Nitrogen deficiency in crops can be evidently measured by the use of agricultural drones, having improved imaging sensors, from high above These sensors can limit the changing sun-light effects levels and allow a more accurate calculation of the green area to be made.

Flight operations begin in late-winter when agricultural drones take hundred of images of the growing crop canopy. Then images stitched into a card and software is utilized to recognize early-growth patterns. From here, the exact fertilization program can be adapted to the different nutrient requirements of the plants in different areas of the field.

Weed and Disease Control

Using techniques similar to fertilizer-planning, drones can precisely measure weed and disease rates in farmlands. The drone collects data that identifies the different reflective properties of different plant species and areas of the crop that have surrendered to disease. Orchards can also use technology to accurately identify and tag trees that are infected with a variety of infectious diseases.

Plants and Field Mapping

Fruit growers can benefit from tree and row spacing reports with accurate calculations of the canopy. The same goes for forestry-and-timber production, where agricultural drones can play a significant part in accessing remote off-road locations.

Chemical Spraying on Crops

A larger amount of available agricultural drones can apply small amounts of pesticides or fertilizers to plants, gardens, and forests. However, only a few regions and countries allow the use of drones for this mission. As of September 2016, farmers in Queensland, Australia received drone pesticide approval and joined farmers in the US, New Zealand, Switzerland, and China.

The main legal obstacles on-air spray bans are due to environmental and anti-terrorism concerns. Many countries are trying to change their regulations to allow drone spraying because of the potential benefits:

  • Zero-ground compaction
  • Spraying higher plants
  • Access to unreachable lands
  • Spraying around power-lines
  • Spot spraying (exact at disease and pest infection)
  • Lower cost
  • Reduce environmental-risks

China is one of the countries that introduced aerial spraying with drones. The drones used have a diameter of about 2 m, a weight of approximately 20 kg, and can carry a payload of 10 liters for treatment of approximately 1 ha/hour. Active-radar system and real-time GPS data are installed into the drone, which then flies on a given route with a positioning accuracy of 1 cm.

The forward-and-downward facing radar systems allow the drones to maintain a consistently low altitude above the plants, minimizing the chance of spray drift.

The Future Revolution in Use of Drones in Agriculture

Drone swarms: Drones can already communicate with each-other to avoid collision and fly in a controlled manner. This technique could allow several agricultural drones or a drone swarm to apply pesticides to all fields in an efficient time in the future.

Plant Pollination: The decline in bee number has raised concerns around the world about the future feasibility of plant pollination, which is at the heart of horticulture and agriculture production. In Japan, the researcher studied the use of agricultural drones to accomplish this task. With a diameter of only four centimeter and a weight of only 15 grams, the drone has proven that it can pollinate flowers without damaging the plants.

Flight Beyond Visual-Line: A common part of drone lawmaking is a safety constraint that limits the extreme operating distance to 500 m. Operators and producers are pushing for these restrictions to be lifted. They argue that flying the BVLOS will change the drone industry and that it will be safe thanks to developments in security technology on board.

Benefits of Agricultural Drones Compared to Other Technologies

  • Global Coverage
  • All-Time Ready
  • Low Cost of Operation
  • Data Accuracy

drones data

SOP’s for Use of Drones in Agriculture in Pakistan

(1) A person should apply to the deputy director of their area’s agriculture department for permission to use agricultural drones solely for the following purposes:

  • Pesticides application
  • Weeds, pests, and nutritional-deficiency monitoring
  • Geographical survey
  • Research and development

Provided the specific purposes from the list above must be clearly stated in the application.

(2) The respective Deputy Director of the Department of Agriculture should forward all cases for the above agricultural purposes to the DC / DPO.

(3) After proper verification, the DC can provide the applicant with a NOC stating the area, time, and duration of the use of agricultural drones. A police officer must also be connected to the drone operator during the flight.

(4) The relevant Deputy Director of the Ministry of Agriculture should inform the applicant promptly of the status and results of the application for a NOC on the acceptable agricultural use of the drone and the conditions associated with it.

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Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels.

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