Since the dawn of agriculture, farmers have had to contend with the forces of nature that threatened their livelihoods and very existence.
These threats present themselves in the form of bug infestations such as weevils, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and ticks while microscopic pathogens such as fungi and bacteria have been known to wipe out entire crop harvest and herds of livestock.
The ability to effectively fight these threats lay in early detection before small problems spiral out of control and now for the first time in history, technology has equipped farmers with the ability to monitor their crops and cattle as often and closely as they would like to by using agricultural drones.
A UAV has become a must-have tool for every farmer because when drones are equipped with high-resolution cameras and sensors then they can use their aerial capabilities to provide farmers with a wide range of useful data regarding their crops and cattle.
Using Near Infrared sensors allows drones to detect plant stress up to ten days before it is visible to the naked human eye because NIR sensors are capable of identifying minute discoloration of leaves by analyzing the wavelength of light reflected of plant leaves.
Plant stress is often an indicator of disease, poor nutrition or lack of enough water which means the sooner a farmer can know of the existence of a problem then the sooner it can get solved. NIR sensors can also be used to detect moisture levels in the soil as well as the presence of hot spots where extra irrigation is required.
Once a problem area has been identified drones can collect both soil and plant tissue samples and return them to farmers for further analysis.
Studying plant tissue can help determine the existence of disease-causing pathogens as well as determine if a plant is lacking in particular nutrients. Soil samples can be useful in determining PH levels which are important because high-acidity levels tend to inhibit root elongation.
Harsh weather conditions such as hail storms often result in damage to the crop but it is often difficult for farmers to properly estimate the extent of the damage because it requires a lot of man-hours to walk through large farms spanning thousands of acres.
Drones, on the other hand, can easily assess within a matter of minutes the extent of damage done so as to allow farmers to accurately estimate the total losses incurred and plan accordingly.
Smart farmers are also using drones for cattle as a way of monitoring their health and movements. Farmers with ranches spanning tens of thousands of acres often have thousands of cattle but they do not have the time or manpower to constantly keep an eye on the health of their animals.
Drones, however, allow farmers from the comfort of their homes to be able to see if their cattle are eating enough food or if they are showing signs of malnutrition or lack of appetite.
The ability to spot animal diseases quickly is important because infections such as foot and mouth disease can spread through an entire herd in a matter of days causing symptoms like fever, blisters, and lameness.
Insects and pests that attack cattle include ticks, lice, and tsetse flies. The USDA estimates that the total losses to farmers cattle due to insect bites are about $500 million in the US and over $2 billion in Brazil.
While it is difficult to even for HD camera drones to spot these small threats it is possible for farmers to keep an eye out for the symptoms caused by their diseases. An example is that if a farmer notes that his cows and pigs are sleeping too much it could be an indicator that tsetse flies have bitten the animals.
The simplest definition of precision agriculture is the ability to focus limited resources on specific problems as effectively as possible and it has always been the dream of every farmer in the world until now.
Drones have turned this dream into a reality especially with regards to dealing with bug infestations and delivery of herbicides as well as pesticides to precise locations they are needed.
Large drones can carry enough fungicides, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals to deliver them to specific areas they are needed which can save farmers a lot of money.