Technology & Innovation / April 24, 2020

Agriculture Drones are Changing the Way We Grow Food

The idea of having you own unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) used to be a pipe dream, reserved mostly for the realm of science fiction. Yet nowadays, drones are more accessible than ever – you might even get one for Christmas. Although drones have become popular source of enjoyment for the general population, they have also been adapted for use in more specific fields. For example, agriculture drones are revolutionizing the industry – and the trend shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

History

Not so long ago in 2013, drones were extremely expensive gadgets. A fixed-winged drone could cost between $10-$30K. Plus sophisticated computational hardware and software that could add a couple of thousand dollars. And not only that, they offered very little usability. For a long time, big corporations and research institutes were the only ones experimenting with this technology.

Things have changed in recent years. Due to faster household connections, cloud computing has become available for most people, which eliminates the need for pricy hardware. Also, companies like Dronedeploy now provide user-friendly, cloud-based software for crop mapping and automation of drone flight. With only an app a common farmer can have access to 3D maps and much more information about his crops, eliminating the need for advanaced technical training to interpret the data.

Reasons why drones have become available

Another reason why drones have become available is the reduction of prices. DIJ, a Chinese company, provides drones in the range of $1-3K – these are the multi-rotor drones. The ones that dominated the market in the agricultural sector in 2018. These more affordable drones are capable of a variety of tasks that can help farmers streamline their operations.

First of all, drones can generate 3D maps of a field that can provide data for soil analysis before planting, and for irrigation and fertilizer applications after planting. Crop monitoring is also a big part of the utility of drones, and can help maintain the health of crops by analyzing bacterial and fungal infections through something called the Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI). This process used to be carried out by satellites. But it was very high-cost and the data took days to become available.

Other novel uses for drones involve planting seeds, crop spraying and cattle herd monitoring. The first two are capable of decreasing planting costs by 85% and can significantly reduce herbicide, pesticide, and fertilizer inputs. Cattle herd monitoring is especially useful in night-time, and can provide real-time information on the health and location of herds.

Use of drones in the world

The increasing use of drones in agriculture has created a market that is growing dramatically. From 2018 to 2024, the market for agricultural drones is expected to grow from $1.5 billion to $6.2 billion, with crop spraying being the most common use and North America the biggest consumer. Though agriculture drones are already having an huge impact on the industry, such growth comes with its challenges, such as issues related to privacy, safety, and security.

For instance in the UK, drones are not allowed to fly above 400 feet, or within 5 kilometers of an airport, which means that farmers that live close to airports won’t be able to use this technology. Though, the efforts to find proper regulation for drones have started early in some countries like in South Africa. Where since 2015 they have enforced comprehensive rules for UAVs.

Technological advancements are changing agriculture as we know it. Affordable technologies like drones, which now have user-friendly software and a variety of uses, are allowing common farmers to move towards precision farming. The outcome of a more efficient and technical agriculture looks promising. But proper regulations will have to come soon so farmers can get the best out of UAVs.

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