How Are Drones are Revolutionizing Agriculture?

Drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) have been around since quite some time (early 80s). However, their practical applications rapidly expanded in the last five years, thanks to advancements in the sensor and camera technologies and falling prices. Agriculture is one of the most promising areas where drones can be very useful and help address some major challenges.

Agricultural drones help producers embrace modern strategies for food production and improving productivity. These specialty drones are part of the solution to meet ever-increasing agricultural consumption, which is expected to increase by around 70% by 2050. Farmers and producers have to adapt new technologies to make processes streamlined and more efficient. The major applications of agricultural drones include:

Crop Monitoring

Specialty agricultural drones are equipped with sensors and other hardware needed for a holistic view of crop growth. This enables agriculturists to identify issues quickly and accurately and plan for the future. Monitoring crops spread across vast fields is a major challenge, while unpredictable weather conditions make the matters even more complicated. Agricultural drones are a cost-effective way of monitoring crops and target field scouting.

Crop Spraying

Advanced sensors and obstacle avoidance systems allow ag drones to spray more precisely and consistently than manual spraying. Increased efficiency, reduced wastage and up to five times faster spraying make drone-spraying a much better option than traditional machine spraying.

Soil and Field Assessment

Drones can be used to extract different characteristics of soil, including moisture level, temperature, elevation and slope, which ultimately results in better seeding prescriptions and more accurate soil sampling. Precise 3D maps are instrumental in soil analysis, while post-planting soil analysis provides important data for better irrigation and management of nitrogen levels.

Harvest Planting

Data collected by ag drones during the crop lifecycles help producers plan more efficiently, improve existing models and accurately anticipate yield and harvest quality. Specialized drone planting systems can cut planting costs by up to 85% and achieve up to 75% uptake rate. Specialized ag drones can not only shoot pods with seeds, but they can also put nutrients into the soil to sustain their growth.

Crop Health Assessment and Insurance Reporting

Agricultural drones make it easier to capture high-res images for reporting insurance-related events and losses such as crop destruction or injury and reduced crop health. Drones also help identify fungal/bacterial infections on trees by scanning areas using specialized cameras and sensors such as near-infrared light. These sensors and cameras allow producers to keep track of changes and crop health. Early identification of issues ensures a prompt and highly-targeted response, which can even save an entire orchard.

Irrigation and Drainage

Specialty drones equipped with specialized sensors/cameras such as thermal infrared can detect dry parts of a field and calculate the vegetation index as the crop grows. This aids producers in troubleshooting irrigation systems and managing water flow more effectively.

Fixed-Wing vs. Rotor-based Drones

Fixed-wing drones such as SenseFlyeBee SQ and PrecisionHawk Lancaster 5 can cover more area and offer better flight times. They are mostly used for scanning large open fields and can carry load, which means more sensors, more data per flight and reduced total time per acre while collecting data.

However, fixed-wing drones are more expensive and are not good at everything. Multi-rotor drones are suitable for covering small areas and precision imaging, thanks to their better maneuverability. On the other hand, multi-rotor drones offer almost half the flight time and often carry less payload.

Choosing between fixed-wing and multi-rotor agricultural drones depends on your own requirements and goals. Multi-rotor drones are more affordable and suitable for precision tasks, while fixed-wing drones are expensive, but can cover large areas in a single charge.

Some people prefer buying inexpensive versions of both types of drones to have the best of both worlds. They use fixed-wing drones to scout large and open spaces along unobstructed straight lines and send a rotor-based drone to closely inspect areas that need attention.

Best Drones for Agriculture

DJI Agras MG-1 Spraying Drone

The Agras MG-1 is a spraying drone (octocopter) designed to bring new levels of manageability and efficiency to agriculture. It can carry up to a 10 KG liquid payload and cover a 4000-6000 meter-square area in just 10 minutes (7-10 acres/hour), which according to the manufacturer is almost 50 times faster than manual spraying.

Key features and specifications

  • Y-Shape foldable design
  • Up to 22 lbs./10 KG liquid payload
  • Automatic spray adjustment
  • 7-10 acres/hour
  • Sealed body
  • Centrifugal cooling system
  • Carbon fiber airframe
  • Triple filter system to keep debris out
  • 4 wear-resistant nozzles
  • Dust and water-resistant advanced flight controller
  • Manual, Manual Plus and Smart flight modes
  • Standard take-off weight: 50 lbs./22.5 kg
  • Up to 10-minute hovering-time with standard take-off weight
  • Up to 24-minute flight time with 27.5 lbs./ 12.5 KG take-off weight
  • Controller transmission range: 0.62 miles / 1KM

SenseFlyeBee SQ

eBee SQ is designed to capture crop data and can cover hundreds of acres in one flight. Precise imagery allows agriculturists to view the real crop health and get reliable insights. The fixed-wing drone is compatible with existing workflows, ag machinery and FMIS, allowing users to leverage their existing investments and make the most out of existing data.

Key features and specifications

  • Multispectral imagery
  • Designed for Parrot Sequoia+ camera
  • Can cover around 500 acres in a single charge @ 400 ft. elevation
  • Lightweight @ 2.3lbs./1.1KG
  • Transmission range up to 5 miles/ 8 KM
  • eMotion Ag software for flight planning and control
  • Automatic 3-D flight planning
  • Optional image processing software Pix4Dag
  • Up to 28mph/45kmph wind resistance
  • Up to 55 minutes flight time, 25 miles/41 km flight range
  • Hand launch
  • Compatible with popular software including Autodesk and Google Earth
  • Data capturing includes plant counts, vegetation indices, Soil H2O levels and temperature

PrecisionHawk Lancaster 5

Lancaster 5 is a ruggedized fixed-wing drone that can be loaded with a variety of sensors including thermal infrared, multispectral, LIDAR, hyperspectral and visual. The plug-and-play sensor bay makes it easy to install and remove different sensors, while use of AI enables the drone to quickly react to changing conditions, including weather, payload, wind and visibility.

Key features and specifications

  • Dedicated CPUs for autopilot control and mission/data management
  • Onboard AI
  • Max take-off weight 7.8 lbs./3.55KG
  • Up to 45 minutes flight time
  • Up to 1.2 mi/2 KM transmission range
  • Per-flight coverage area 300 acres @ 328 feet altitude
  • InFlight, built-in mission planning software
  • Sensor bay (plug-and-play)

Sentera Omni Ag

Omni Ag is a complete hardware/software solution that cones with Double 4K Multispectral Sensor and can capture high-res visual, NDVI and NIT data and simultaneously live stream NDVI data. This allows users to view crop health data in real time and take action even before the drone lands. The AgVault 2.0 software does all the image processing work, while you can easily control the quadcopter using the dedicated flight controller or your smartphone.

Key features and specifications

  • Any-angle inspection, fully gimbaled mount
  • Sentera Double 4K Sensor
  • Two zoom levels
  • Simultaneous capturing of high-res data (RGB, NDVI and NIR)
  • Compatible with multiple sensors including DJI Zenmuse X3/Z3/Xt and Z30
  • Low distortion optics and rapid image collection
  • Take off weight 8 lbs./ 3.6 KG
  • Up to 25 minutes hover time
  • RGB and NIR resolution 12MP