Drone is an unmanned aircraft or ship that can navigate autonomously, without human control, or beyond the line of sight. Any unmanned aircraft or ship that is guided remotely.
Drones are Making Their Presence Known
Do we need drones in farming and the agricultural industry today? The short answer is “YES!”
As of March 21, 2017, FAA data indicates there are more than 37,000 drone operators certified under Part 107 and 44,000 commercial drones registered in the U.S.
The use of drones has been increasing at a rapid pace and demand from farmers, agronomists and consultants are discovering the benefits of drones in their everyday farming activities.
With an estimated growth in the UAV industry, how can this continue to attract farmers, consultants, and agronomists to utilize the benefits drones offer in agriculture?
Drones have made their useful presence known in the agricultural sector.
World Consumption of Field Crops
With the growing demand for foods reflected in the graph chart below, agriculture will continue to experience steady growth in the years to come. Demand for better field management, scouting, and field reporting is required for this estimated growth. Users are adding pressure to the UAV manufacturers to offer more abilities with the drone, better software feedback, and become more user-friendly.
Benefits of Drone use Today
Ability to cover more area quickly and efficiently
Scouting crops more effective
Earlier detection of problematic areas of the fields
Reducing labor costs
Entices younger talent to enter the agriculture sector
Personal Drone Experiences
With our farms located in different countries, we experience uncertain climates, terrains, soils, the size of fields, and a multitude of other related issues that we do not often see back in our home country. The DJI drone helps us in many ways to identify the areas from visualizing the terrain, boundaries, soil erosion, and runoff areas to checking vegetation surrounding our fields. During a consultation with a potential client understanding the surroundings and acquiring a good view of the farm aids us in preparing for our initial review meeting with a customer.
Knowing your surroundings and paddock layout is one of the first tasks at hand for our team. Instead of driving the boundaries of every field and that is if you can manage to get around the boundaries easily we opt to fly a drone over every area, farm access roads, waterway, and tree line. Following those methods mentioned above will prepare us for our first consultation meeting giving us a bit of added confidence in the project we are looking at advising on.
As an agronomist, farmer, or crop consultant most often you are out scouting crops daily. The drones have made crop scouting less strenuous while increasing our ability to cover more acres or hectares in a day. Also reporting the results of the plants has become a bit more insightful by opening up our capacities to see our fields from above along with walking the fields.
Drones give us and our clients more added details and insightfulness as to what we are finding in the fields. Accessing damages for insurance claims has become much more efficient and less costly utilizing drones in this process. Videos and pictures of the damaged crops are always useful tools for insurance claims and adjusters.
Operator Efficiencies from the Drones Viewpoint
For those of us that employ operators and workers for our day-to-day operations, the drone has become extremely useful.
I have personally used the videos taken from my drone to show drivers where they are making errors, how to understand equipment efficiencies by setting the GPS correctly, and adjusting for overlap to assist in increasing fuel efficiency. This medium has been a very effective way of indicating those smaller issues that add expense to our operations.
Another area of the drone that has been helpful is the ability to show which operators are performing the best. Watching their performance in the videos shows their abilities to operate farm machinery. These approaches listed above can be a great tool for salary increases, bonuses or just to help them become better operators.
Areas the drone is useful in when it comes to utilizing it for your employees and operators.
Speed and Implement Adjustments
Operating Around Obstacles
Machine Operator and the Drone - Birds Eye View
During one of our past consulting projects conveying to the client why or what problems they had was difficult without being able to show them visuals with a full perspective view of a particular nutrient deficiency, they were having in their corn.
The client was experiencing lower than normal yields on their corn production. Avoiding the long list of problematic issues they had, we will discuss their nitrogen application process.
My first challenge was to convince the client the machine could not spread poultry litter further than the Terragator’s capabilities. Walking the width of what we saw spread was not enough to convince them of what they were seeing. They couldn’t see how this would affect the corn we were about to plant. I decided the best solution is to let them do what convinced them the right way of applying poultry litter was, using the spread width they determined was correct for their machine. One thing for certain is the corn will show a lack of nitrogen after the improper application width.
Although we were going to apply nitrogen at the V4 stage, the early effects of the misapplied poultry litter were sure to show up in streaked patterns throughout their fields. My challenge was to show them the results of their decision became an easy solution with the drone. I was going to take pictures and videos so they would quickly understand what was happening to what they were convinced was the appropriate width for spreading.
Now let’s fast forward to after the corn emerged and was about to tassel. As one can see from the drone pictures, the issues of application were obvious. The drone images showed the patterns.
Success!! Drone Saves the Year!!
The client was shocked to see these pictures now convinced they were making the application correctly. Since that time the client has learned and relied on the drone that gives them some better insight into what is going on pre-emergence and post-emergence with their crops. Needless to say, they are now spreading the poultry litter at the capabilities of the machine. Covering nearly 110,000 hectares, this has aided agronomists in making better decisions.
Equipment Manufacturers and Drones
Equipment manufacturers and drones will have a symbiotic relationship as we move forward in the industry. From my early days in equipment selection, standard practice was to call my equipment supplier up for a live demonstration. I would operate the machinery, watch the equipment performance from the ground and speculate how effective this would be on our farm along with the advice from every farmer friend I had within a 20-mile radius.
Currently, now our standard practice has been to follow our procedure, but we have added the drone to our process of equipment selection. Some may think this is a bit absurd but quite the contrary. One of the reasons we like to use our drone when making equipment choices is to identify the operations of the equipment from all angles, what kind of visible compaction can we see, how effective is the implement performing behind the tractor, and how smoothly is the operation of the machinery.
We have particularly been fond of a particular model of the drill, and the drone has convinced us that our selection was the right one. Watching some of the videos of other pieces of farm machinery operating has shown us results of options we needed to add or equipment we needed to replace.
The drone has given us a different perspective of the operations of the equipment we have selected. Above all, it aids us in our equipment purchases and in recommending equipment to our clients.
The Future of Drones in Agriculture
As drone developers anticipate the estimated growth in the agriculture market, increased opportunities for sales and the development of new technologies for drones will continue to grow at a rapid pace. We have seen from the launch of drones in agriculture the addition of NDVI, and soon there will be much more unmanned chemical applications with drones. The addition of NDVI will increase the use of drones and also allow us to have much better feedback on what we see in our crop production fields.
Purchasing Your First Drone
There is a list of topics to consider when purchasing your first drone.
Industry and Usage
Transportability (number 1 on my list as I travel extensively)
Level of Innovation
Replacement Parts Availability
Considering these topics will aid you in purchasing the drone that best suits your needs.
Our group selected the DJI Drone for our needs. There are multiple drone manufacturing companies worldwide that may be a better choice of selection for your needs. The best practice is to identify your needs and research which manufacturer fits your needs and goals before making your choice.
Drones have made their presence and usefulness in the agricultural arena. Rarely do I find myself traveling abroad, to consult or visit my farms without my drone. It has become one of my most useful tools in gathering information quickly and efficiently. Gathering this information allows us to see how efficient and effective our tillage, planting, spraying, and harvesting methods are.
The drone market is not near its peak in anticipated growth, and I believe there will be much more growth and newer technologies and uses released shortly for drones in agriculture.
DJI drone has become our preferred drone of choice for farms and consulting projects. Currently, we are using the DJI Phantom 3 as it fits exactly what we were looking for.