Chances are, you already know drones are amazing. After all, this is something DroneLife readers
just understand. But if you’re anything like me, you’re still regularly blown away when you
learn about the latest developments in commercial drone technology. The possibilities seem
The farm drone isn’t exactly a new idea, I know. But what I’ve been marveling at these days is
the constantly expanding range of farm drone applications, particularly as they relate to “smart
farming” — which is a bit of a new idea. Based on new research, by 2050, our world’s population
is supposed to be so much greater that our current food production will have to increase by 70%
from what it is now to feed everyone. But there’s an even trickier part: Scientists estimate
there will be much higher demand for water and a lot less arable land available.
That means achieving a 70% increase will require a highly technical analysis of hard-core
agricultural data, the development of technology capable of collecting that data and, finally,
using the information to speed production while maintaining quality standards. Or, to put it
another way, that increase will require some serious smart farming. And the need for such
precision is making drones an enormous part of our agricultural future. Read on to find out
Sometimes called “precision agriculture,” smart farming is based on the incorporation of advanced
technology in the management of crops and livestock to increase output without compromising
— a tall order that’ll be tough to achieve from a financial perspective in the long term. The
to maintain that balance between cost and quality has made drones particularly attractive to
farming tech developers. Drones are relatively affordable and don’t require a whole lot of
to pilot. Plus, drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are strong enough to carry the kinds
remote sensing technology that, in the past, required satellite connectivity or the use of
full-size, manned aircraft.
Here are just a few of the awesome ways drones are set to help us meet the challenges of the
Keeping Watch. Environmental changes happen very quickly, which can make it tough for farmers to
monitor large fields. And the same goes for livestock; when herds are very large, keeping an eye
wanderers can be difficult without a birds-eye view. As it turns out, drones make awesome flying
baby-sitters. Equipped with surveillance technology, drones can fly high and fast, creating
time-series animations that let farmers keep up with crop inefficiencies and lost or hurt
in real time.
Spraying That’s Better in Every Way. No one likes the idea of chemical spraying, but, for the
being, it’s a necessary part of large-scale agriculture. Fortunately, smart farming drones are
helping reduce its environmental impact. These specialized UAVs are equipped with sprayers, but
with various kinds of technology, like ultrasonic echoing devices and lasers, which can measure
distance with extreme precision. The result is a massive reduction in overall spray and a much
chemical level reaching the groundwater. And, of course, being that they’re drones, they can
complete a spraying job about five-times faster than old-school methods.
Crop Planting Optimized for Efficiency. A new drone-based planting system recently reported on by
MIT is probably my favorite of the latest smart farming drone applications. Not only does the
have the potential to decrease planting costs by close to 85%, it accomplishes this by launching
specialized seed- and nutrient-filled pods into the soil below (so very sci-fi). Also, many
are now using drones fitted with 3-D mapping equipment capable of going out and bringing back
and field analysis data to streamline planning and planting patterns and to help optimize field
irrigation and soil nitrogen levels throughout the crop cycle.
Making the Most of Irrigation. As I mentioned above, scientists say that water shortages are sure
throw a monkey wrench in our agricultural future. But smart farming has a plan, and it involves
you guessed it — drones. These high-tech high flyers are fitted with remote sensing equipment,
as hyperspectral, multispectral, or thermal sensing systems, that allow them to identify the
sections of field so water resources can be allocated much more economically — more water for
dry areas and less for the wetter ones.
Keeping Things Super Healthy. Today, some farming drones operate like little, flying triage
using visible and near-infrared light sensors and surveillance technology to monitor the health
crops and livestock. While flying overhead, the field drones are able to collect enough detailed
information to calculate a crop’s vegetation index. They do this by detecting minute differences
a crop’s reflected NIR and green light. From there, the tech can develop diagnostic
Livestock surveillance drones fly over, in and around, herds to collect all kinds of information
illnesses, pregnancies, and injuries. Then, those same drones are able to recognize and monitor
animals in need of special “follow-up care.” Many farmers are also using livestock surveillance
drones to monitor entire herd health cycles.