Bird eye view
Imagine having the ability to take a bird`s eye view of your crops and cattle with precision accuracy all from a comfortable distance.
This has always been every farmer`s dream and it is now becoming a reality with the advent of the drone revolution which is no longer just the domain of hobbyist and soldiers.
Agricultural innovators are now experimenting with high megapixel cameras attached to copter drones capable of flying over large tracts of farmland to take aerial photographs with high definition quality.
The information obtained from these aerial photographs can provide farmers with valuable information regarding areas that need close attention.
The rise of programmable drones for agriculture means that farmers do not even need to control a drone anymore because using Georeferencing software means that they can fly over predefined coordinates and take Near In-fared (NIR) images that can be used to identify when crops are performing poorly in a certain area of the farm.
Higher end drones can even assess crop development on their own and compare their data against other maps created by aggregated yield monitors.
The scouting of crops during different stages of growth can be of immense benefit because it easily allows for measuring crop height to determine if they are receiving enough water and nutrients.
Cost of agricultural drones
The cost of crop surveying drones varies widely depending on a wide range of factors such as battery life, warranty, size, maximum load and flying height. These immense differences mean that a drone can cost less than $1000 to as high as several tens of thousands.
Whatever the costs of acquiring a drone, it cannot be denied that in most instances it is far cheaper than the alternatives of hiring manned aircraft as well as the option of buying satellite images.
An example of a commonly used UAV is the DGI phantom 2 drone which sells at $700 and is used for taking aerial shots of large fields when by attaching an HD camera onto a designated area.
Characteristics of the best drones for agriculture
A drone used in agriculture cannot be the same drone used by hobbyist for leisure activities, there are practical considerations that must be taken into consideration when selecting a drone for agricultural activities.
The first and most obvious issue are whether it can have a powerful onboard camera which can be used for photography and if not whether one can be attached to the drone.
An agricultural drone should be able to fly itself home if it ever loses contact with its primary user because it would be impossible to search for a lost drone out in a large crop plantation.
A drone should have high storage capacity for recorded data as well as streaming capabilities to send live video uploads to a primary user.
The ability to independently analyze data such as crop yield compared to previous seasons can be an early indicator of whether to expect a good or bad harvest.
Last but not least is that a good agricultural drone should have a long battery life so that it can do surveillance over large tracts of land as well be able to follow cattle if they wander far from their intended grazing areas.
Effectiveness of agricultural drones under hostile conditions
Obvious questions arise with regards to the ability of an agricultural drone to handle extreme weather conditions such as hail, rain, and strong winds.
Drone designers have now taken this consideration into account and created drones with adaptive accelerometers that allow a drone to be able to balance itself out even if strong winds try to topple it over.
Drones and their cameras are also resistant to water so even if they are exposed to rain it will not damage them.
The use of drones will not completely eliminate the need for a farmer to be on the ground tending to crops but it will help in maximizing efficiency because a farmer will now be able to allocate his resources where they are most needed.
The ability to take great aerial shots that are most accurate relies on a user being well versed in drone maneuverability and so farmers should probably practice a lot and take drone training if possible so as to prevent any kind of dangerous mishaps that could injure a human being, cattle or damage the drone itself. Luckily however drones can take quite a beating and their propellers are cheaply replaceable.