Drone use is growing rapidly in almost every sector of the economy but drone use is booming in the agricultural industry. The agricultural drone market is expected to grow from US$ 1.2 billion in 2019 to $4.8 billion in 2024, according to some reports. In a few short years, drone use will become more omnipresent on large and small-scale farms from scouting to safety. The information gathered on farms by drones is also used to help inform agronomic decisions and is part of a program commonly known as ‘precision agriculture’.
Drone use has already become an integral part of large-scale precision farming operations in many areas. The data from drone monitoring fields help farmers schedule their planting and treatments to achieve the best yields possible. Some reports indicate that using precise farming systems, yields can increase by as much as 5%, which is a significant increase in a typically slim profit margins.
What are Drones?
Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly called drones, are lightweight, weighing up to 20 kg (50 lbs) aerial platforms. Because of their size, a human body cannot embark on them. Drones can be operated in two ways: directly, where a human has complete control over the vehicle via wireless remote; and autonomously, where the vehicle can control itself and follow a data-based route on the data from GPS or other sensors.
In this blog, we will take a look at some of the areas where drone technology is already being used on farms, some new agricultural drone technologies are being explored, and we will address some of the steps and challenges of adopting widespread use of drone in agriculture.
- Monitoring Field Conditions
Drone field surveillance is used to monitor soil and plant health conditions. Drones can provide accurate field mapping including information on elevations that allow growers to identify any irregularities in the field. It is useful to have field elevation information when determining drainage patterns and wet/dry spots which enable more efficient watering techniques. Drone monitoring allows precise fertilizer application, eliminates poor growing spots and improves soil health for years to come.
- Planting & Seeding
Some of the newer and less commonly used drone applications in agriculture is for seed planting. Automated drone seeders are mostly used in forestry industries right now, but the potential for more widespread use is on the horizon. Drone planting ensures that areas can be replanted very hard to access without endangering the workers.
- Spray Application
Drone sprays are capable of handling very challenging areas to access, such as steep tea fields at high altitudes. Drone sprayers prevent staff from having to use backpack sprayers to traverse fields which can be harmful to their safety. Drones sprayers deliver very fine spray applications which can be targeted to specific areas for maximizing efficiency and saving on chemical cost.
Apart from agriculture, drone security is a fast-growing industry but is also extremely useful for farm management. Using drones to monitor a farmer’s farm without being there saves valuable time and allows more frequent monitoring of areas hard to reach. Drone cameras can provide a day-long overview of farm operations to ensure operations are running smoothly and to locate equipment used. Instead of employing more security personnel, security drones can be deployed to monitor fencing and the perimeters of more valuable crops like cannabis. Drone cameras are also used to protect farm animals in exciting ways by locating missing or injured herd animals in far-off grazing areas. Remote area monitoring that used to take hours of walking can now be completed in a few minutes.
- Drone Irrigation
As climate change is increasingly affecting drought conditions, it is vital to create more efficient solutions to irrigation. Using microwave sensing, drones can capture very accurate soil health information including humidity levels without interfering with the plants. This means that in an effort to conserve resources, water can be distributed the most efficiently in a field.
Drones have already vastly altered the agricultural industry and will continue to grow in the coming years. While drone use is becoming more useful to small farmers, there is still a way to go before they become part of every farmer’s equipment roster, particularly in developing nations. There are many ways drones can be useful to farmers but it’s important to first understand the proper use of drones in agriculture field. Drones use can benefit famers in increasing their profit margins also.
General India Drone Laws
- Do not fly your drone over densely populated areas or large crowds.
- Do not fly your drone within 5km of airports or in areas where aircraft are operating.
- Hurdles before drones in agri-tech take off.
- You must fly during daylight hours and only fly in good weather conditions.
- Do not fly your drone in sensitive areas including government or military facilities. Use of drones or camera drones in these areas is prohibited.
- Do not fly your drone more than 500 meters into the sea, from the coastline.
- Do not fly within 5km of Vijay Chowk in Delhi.
- All drones must have liability insurance.
- All drones must be equipped with a license plate identifying the operator, and how to contact them.
- Do not fly your drone within 50km of a border.