Do I need an Agricultural Drone?

Relatively inexpensive drones with advanced cameras are giving farmers new ways to increase yields and control crop damage.

Farmers have been using high-density (grid) soil sampling, done every few years to track things like nutrient content, the fertility components of different parts of a field and possible concern areas. Accurate contour mapping which indicates how water moves around. Moisture sensor probes can give moisture levels at multiple depths. Some sensors are also able to indicate nutrient content and how it changes in response to the application of fertilizer.

Sensors attached to machinery can even take measurements on the go. For instance, multi-spectral cameras mounted on a sprayer tractors booms can estimate the nitrogen needs of crops about to be sprayed and adjust accordingly. The cutting edge modern farm is inundated with huge amounts of data that need to be interpreted into a usable actionable plan so results can come from it.

When we talk about drones many farmers will ask, why do I need one of those? Or how can we afford one of them? or just maybe we should be asked can you afford not to have one?

There are many farmers that are also a drone operator—and they are not alone. They part of the array of connected farmers who are using what was once a military technology to grow better crops from potatoes to corn using multi-spectral pictures for making day to day decisions.

With different cameras and filters, drones can measure the amount of vegetation cover and distinguish between crops and weeds. With multi-spectral cameras, that look at how strongly plants absorb or reflect distinct wavelengths of sunlight, they can discover which crops are healthy and which not.

Drones fly at a low enough altitude to get an analyzed view, that a farmer gets a tool that they have never had before. Compared with satellite imagery which is reliant on clear days. Because drones are flying under the clouds, it’s available anytime. It’s also much cheaper than flying an individual field with a manned aircraft. Farmers can buy the drones outright for around $5,500 each with high-quality ag-specific cameras.

Drones can provide farmers with many types of detailed views. With the ability to see the crop from the air and how it can reveal patterns that give everything from nitrogen levels to exposing irrigation problems or soil variation and even infestations like a fungus that aren’t apparent at eye level. Cameras on drones can take multi-spectral images, gathering data from the visual and infrared spectrum, which can be used to run an algorithm to create NDVI (Normalized Differential Vegetation Index), that shows differences between healthy and weak or stressed plants in a way that can’t be seen with a visual scan of your field. A drone can survey a crop as often as the farmer wants. With an ability for that imagery to show changes in the crop, revealing problems or opportunities for better farm management.