Drone technology is having a tremendous economic impact on the field of agriculture because for the first time in history farmers have real-time access to videos and sensory surveillance of their crops.
By far the biggest return on investment for farmers has been in their ability to identify unhealthy plants as early as possible, to prevent the spread of diseases before things get out of hand.
Other problems such as nutritional deficiencies, lack of enough water supply, the spread of pests, and weeds can all be detected quickly to resolve the problems as soon as possible.
UAVs give farmers the ability to measure the height of crops and compare that data to previous seasons to determine overall health and productivity.
High-resolution cameras and inbuilt software can allow for precision crop scouting which can help to identify the types of weeds growing on a farm so that the right kind of herbicides are used to kill them.
Some large agriculture drones can even deliver the herbicides directly to affected areas while being controlled by farmers who are miles away.
UAVs are far cheaper and far more accurate than hiring plane scouts or buying imagery satellite data because most alternatives are recurrent expenditures while drones are a one time purchase for years of quality service.
Drones are not affected by cloud cover and some are designed to withstand strong wind speeds of up to 45 mph. Drones can also help farmers predict crop yields to help calculate revenues accurately for effective economic planning.
Drones can help see the damage done by harsh conditions like hailstorms, drought, or tornadoes for effective crisis management and although still in their infancy, precision drones can be used to harvest crops as well as take tissue samples for analysis of plant nutritional requirements as well as soil fertility and PH levels.
How to identify the best drones for agriculture
Not all drones are perfect for agricultural use, some are better suited than others due to design as well as onboard equipment and software. The ability to choose the best drones depends on a number of factors:
a) Battery life
Crop surveying drones often need to take aerial videos of very large tracts of land which mean that they need to be in the air for a significant amount of time. The time a drone can stay in the air is largely determined by how much charge its battery can store which makes battery life a critical factor to consider.
b) Load capacity
For farmers who wish to use their own specially designed cameras and sensors then, it is critical to understand the maximum weight a drone is designed to carry without losing efficiency. Drones categorized as `heavy lift quadcopter` are best suited for heavy equipment including VR gear which can allow you to fly over your farm and give you the impression that you are really there.
c) Onboard sensors and cameras
Near Infrared(NIR) sensors are critical in being able to detect plant height, count, health, as well identify if there are weeds. HD resolution cameras capable of 1080p or 4k imaging can be useful in yield monitoring, crop scouting, classification of trees, acquiring 3-dimensional volumetric data such as holes, drought assessment, and pest detection.
Cameras also take images of leaves to detect color and then aggregate data to detect whether plants are under stress to determine if additional water or nutrients are needed. Drones can take aerial surveillance photos of cattle operations such as movement and grazing patterns.
d) Transmission ranges and autonomous landing
Farmers with extensive farms spanning thousands of acres need drones capable of going far distances while maintaining contact with a primary user as well transmitting live videos or photos of surveilled farmland. In the unlikely event, a drone loses contact with a controller then it should be able to return itself home and land itself.