Editorial Feature

What Can You Do with Farm Drones? Exploring Their Functions

Here, we delve into the diverse applications of drones in crop monitoring, livestock management, and crop damage assessment, positioning them as pivotal tools in addressing the dual challenges of population growth and climate change in agriculture.

Rice Terrace Aerial Shot. Image of beautiful terrace rice field in Chiang Mai Thailand

Image Credit: atk work/Shutterstock.com

Taking Flight: The Rise of Drones in Agriculture

Agriculture and farming are key economic activities, with global output increasing at an average rate of 2.3% annually between 1961 and 2021. However, with a growing world population of over eight billion and the challenges of anthropogenic climate change, the industry is going through a profound technological change to meet the world's food needs.

While their use in the agricultural industry is still in its relative infancy, drones have the potential to become extremely disruptive technologies due to their benefits for efficiency, cost savings, productivity, precision, vastly improved crop yields, and improved animal husbandry.

Drones can cover large land areas in a fraction of the time and resources needed for conventional monitoring. Furthermore, drones can be equipped with different payloads to carry out tasks without the need for human workers or with minimal intervention by those workers.

Additionally, drones can be equipped with a wealth of technologies such as sensors, cameras, and cutting-edge onboard electronics, enhancing their capabilities and making them an ideal choice for farming operations in multiple environments.

Common Uses of Farm Drones and Commercial Examples

The demand for farming drones has grown significantly in recent years, with Australia, South America, and Asia being major markets. As a result,  many different types of commercial drones that perform a multitude of critical tasks on farms worldwide have been developed.

Several different types of drones are being employed worldwide in farms. Fixed-wing, multi-rotor, and hybrid commercial drones are available, ranging in cost and complexity. This section will explore a few uses of drones in agriculture and commercial examples available on the market.

Crop Monitoring and Livestock Management

Advanced sensors help drones monitor large areas with a fraction of the time and resources needed by conventional methods. Timely intervention can be ensured if problems arise.

Parrot Bluegrass Fields is a commercially available drone that has been employed by farmers for this application.

One of the key features of the Parrot Bluegrass Fields is a high-resolution camera, making it ideal for scouring and mapping crops. Detailed field maps can be created using this drone, aiding in efficient crop management. Equipped with a range of online sensors, this drone is user-friendly but suffers from limited flight time and range.

A lot sheep on the beautiful green meadow

Image Credit: majeczka/Shutterstock.com

Drones are also being used for livestock management. Animals can be monitored efficiently, with lost or injured individuals located easily and quickly. Additionally, grazing patterns can be identified, further improving livestock management. Drones are especially useful in areas like the rural US and Australia, where vast ranches over huge tracts of land would be difficult to monitor efficiently.

A compact, robust, and durable hexacopter drone, the Yuneec H520 is specifically designed for commercial applications. Equipped with a high-resolution 20MP camera and able to operate in inclement weather and harsh environmental conditions, it can easily be navigated around livestock, improving their inspection and monitoring.

Collision avoidance technology allows it to operate safely in dynamic environments, and the Yuneec H520 has built-in thermal imaging sensors that can detect disease in crops and injuries in livestock, helping farmers identify potential issues. While these features make the Yuneec H520 a robust and effective agricultural tool, it does have a higher price point. This drone can also be used for critical crop monitoring purposes.

Crop Planting

Drones can be equipped with different payloads, making them ideal candidates for quick and efficient crop spraying. Able to cover large tracts of land in a fraction of the time and cost required for traditional crop spraying technologies, many commercial drones are available on the market today.

The DJI Argas T20 is an example of a commercial drone currently employed by farmers for crop spraying. With a 20-liter tank capacity and multiple nozzles, this drone can spray crops over a large area in a single flight.

This allows farmers to efficiently cover more ground in a shorter time than conventional means, boosting productivity. Furthermore, pre-programmed flight patterns allow farmers to efficiently plan operations.

Through pre-programmed flight patterns, farmers can control the amount of chemicals sprayed on crops, avoiding under-or-over spraying. The DJI Argas T20 has a long battery life and high payload capacity but is more expensive than alternatives and operators must be trained in its use.

Assessing Damage to Crops

Crops can be damaged by a number of environmental factors, such as harsh temperatures, frost, pests, and even wild animals such as deer. Monitoring this damage is critical for productive and profitable agriculture.

Straight Up Drones, a UK-based drone startup company is using data collected by drones to provide farmers with real-time, large-scale,  actionable information that can safeguard crop production.

The company has already provided critical services to local farmers in Cambridgeshire by leveraging PiX4Dfields software and drones such as the DJI Mavic 3 Multispectral to capture thousands of images of crop damage over large areas. This provided extremely accurate data that helped farmers improve their yield. Frost and deer damage could be easily identified quickly using drones.

In Summary

Drones can help farmers meet the challenges of population growth and climate change, improving the productivity, efficiency, and profitability of farms. Several commercial examples are available on the market for a number of key applications, leveraging the latest technologies such as sensors, high-definition cameras, and advanced data analytics.

As the farming industry undergoes a profound technological evolution, leveraging the benefits of drones and other innovative, disruptive technologies, the advent of precision, data-driven farming is fast becoming a reality.

Market Report: The Current State of Agricultural Robotics

References and Further Reading

Hodge, C (2022) Drone use in UK agriculture [online] agriepicentre. Available at: https://agri-epicentre.com/agritech/drone-use-in-uk-agriculture/

DJI Enterprise (2021) How agriculture drones are changing how farmers work [online] enterprise-insights.dji.com. Available at: https://enterprise-insights.dji.com/blog/drones-in-agriculture

Yuneec (website) H520E [online] yuneec.online. Available at: https://yuneec.online/h520-series/

Pix4D (2018) Parrot Bluegrass Fields, the digital farming solution [online] pix4d.com. Available at: https://www.pix4d.com/blog/new-parrot-bluegrass-fields/

Pix4D (2023) Crop damage assessment on a farmland with PIX4Dfields [online] pix4d.com. Available at: https://www.pix4d.com/blog/crop-damage-assessment-pix4dfields/

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Reginald Davey

Written by

Reginald Davey

Reg Davey is a freelance copywriter and editor based in Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Writing for AZoNetwork represents the coming together of various interests and fields he has been interested and involved in over the years, including Microbiology, Biomedical Sciences, and Environmental Science.

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