What Is the Role of Drone Technology in the Agriculture Sector?

Estimated reading time: 16 minutes

Agriculture is one of the earliest occupations of human beings. Used for dietary sustenance, medicine, and many other fields of human interest, agriculture is one of the most important parts of our society.

And the role of drone technology in agriculture is immense.

In recent times, agriculture and technology have joined hands to benefit each other. There are many new technologies being used in agriculture from newer harvesting methods to the utilization of drones for the majority of tasks.

You might be wondering, what is the role of drone technology in the agriculture sector? Well, that’s exactly what I’m here to tell you.

Drone technology is recently being utilized in almost all aspects of agriculture. There are specially programmed drones being used in soil analysis, planting, pesticide spraying, monitoring, and many other parts of agriculture and farming. This trend seems to only grow in the future.

But that’s not it. In this article, I’m going to talk about agricultural drones, the history of the association between agriculture and drone technology, the future of agricultural drones, and much more.

So, if you want to learn everything there is to learn about the role of drones in agriculture, sit back, relax, and read this article till the end.

Credit: DroneDeploy

How Drone Technology took Off in Agriculture Sector?

The history of the use of drone technology in agriculture actually dates back around 100 or so years.

The operation was used to dust crops in a farm in Dayton Ohio under the leadership of the US military.

However, at that time, the thought of cameras being used in drone technology was virtually non-existent.

This thought crossed the minds of engineers around the 80s where it is reported that the first drone with camera technology was used. RC consumer drones for entertainment purposes soon began flooding the market.

But engineers were still concerned about the effort and stress the agriculture sector had due to the lack of modern technology being used in it.

Although a commercial drone named the R-50 by Yamaha was used for dusting crops in 1987.

There was still little to no advancement when it came to agriculture and its association with drone technology. That’s why even after trying and testing a few times, drones were not being used for agriculture yet.

Fast-forward to the late 2000s and drones were becoming easy to produce and high-quality in terms of imaging and monitoring features.

This is when the Chinese company XAG and other drone companies started creating camera drones capable of surveying crop yields and assessing the health of these fields.

Here the actual revolution of drone technology took off in the agricultural sector and we have not seen any stoppage in recent time.

Almost every modern farm owned by multi-national organizations is using agricultural drones for efficiency.

What Are Agricultural Drones?

Agricultural drones are unmanned aerial vehicles that are used to provide help to conventional agricultural labor and optimize the agricultural process thanks to sensor and image monitoring capabilities.

We all know about recreational camera drones. These drones are used for a multitude of purposes. However, agricultural drones are different.

They have integrated GPS systems, monitoring mechanisms, and more optimal for farming.

These systems provide a complete view of the fields and crops that would take a farmer over weeks to completely assess without surety. This doesn’t only increase the efficiency but also the crop yields and overall production.

How Do They Work?

Well, the way agricultural drones work is that they use sensors and imaging mechanisms that monitor and identify the soil variations, infestations, and growth.

A skilled drone pilot is required to control the drone using the transmitter with which they can control the drone monitoring camera and the movements of the drone, choosing to cover each side of the field.

Once, identified, the health of all the field aspects can be checked and if there is any problem with them, the farmers can easily put their skills to use and make sure no problem presents itself.

The overall agricultural scene has become much more advanced and efficient with the help of agricultural drone technology.

That’s why if you are the owner of a farm, I believe is high time to make the right decision and get high-quality agricultural drones for your farm.

Credit: PrecisionHawk

What Makes an Agricultural Drone Different from Regular Recreational Drones?

Well, there are many major differences when it comes to features and even image sensors.

There are many features in agricultural drones that are unavailable in recreational drones.

Special Features of Agricultural Drones:

These features can differ in terms of quality and consistency in different agricultural drones but are available in general, Let’s take a look at some special additional features that come in Agricultural drones.

·     Infrared Camera

The infrared camera takes pictures of the fields from a birds-eye view which are pivotal to assess the health and issues of crops and farms.

·     Autopilot Mode

Autopilot mode can be used to route the drone over a particular pattern to capture the pictures of the entire field to get the best monitoring of the field.

·     Specialized Software

Software programs have integrated features that allow users to visualize the health of the crops using indicating colors like green (healthy), yellow (mediocre), and red (dangerous).

What Are the Uses of Agricultural Drones?

The uses of agricultural drones are booming in today’s market. It is estimated that the agricultural drone market is going to reach a value of over $5 billion in the next 5 years.

You might be wondering how exactly are agricultural drones useful and what practices can they help in. Don’t worry because I’ve got you covered. I’ve made a list of all the major uses of agricultural drones in the market.

Let’s take a look at some of the most efficient, smart, and productive uses of drones in the agricultural market.

Soil Mapping:

Agricultural drones can be used to scope an area or field to see the fertility, surface, and infestations so a proper 3D soil map can be created.

This map can help create a plan for the farmers, so they know where the seeds need to be planted. Using this mapping technique, specialized agricultural drones can be used to perform info-based future crop decisions.

A decade ago, it would be considered impossible to utilize AI and drone technology to be able to make planting and seeding decisions based on surface information.

However, as technology advances, high-quality expensive drones are being used to create maps of land which can be used to determine whether the land is safe for crop growth and how it needs to be cultivated for maximum yield.

Graphic Image of Soil Mapping via drones.
Farmer use infrared in drone with high definition soil mapping while planting

Crop planting:

The beginning of the agricultural process. This is where we start everything. Manually, it takes days or even more time with a multitude of workers being required for the task to be completed.

However, with drone technology and customized crop-planting drones being used by top-of-the-line agricultural companies, crop planting has become much easier too.

Using image sensors and artificial intelligence, drones can identify the surface of the field, shoot seedpods into the ground and provide essential nutrients to these seeds for the start of the growing process.

Crop Dusting:

Crop dusting is the process of spraying crops and fields with insecticides and pesticides to maintain the health of the plants and protect them from crop-eating pests.

There are built-in mechanisms and algorithms which allow specific agricultural drones to spray these medicines over the crops as they fly over them with the help of image sensors and monitors.

Although expensive, crop dusting drones can serve a great purpose, reduce manpower requirements, and make yield better and more efficient over a longer period of time.

Crop Dusting
Crop Dusting

Field Monitoring:

The most common use of agricultural drones is field crop monitoring. High-quality infrared and normal view 4K cameras are integrated into the drone machines and can capture images in a pristine manner.

With a bird’s-eye view of the entire crop, agricultural drones can identify soil problems, infestations, drainage, bad crops, and many other problems which would be difficult to identify by using traditional methods.

Once identified, farmers can tend to particular identified and marked sections of their fields to deal with problems before they spread to the rest of the crops, thus saving time, effort, and yield.

Credit: Syngenta

Irrigation and Fertilization:

We talked about how agricultural drones are being used all around the world for soil analysis to check the nutrient requirements along with irrigation patterns.

Well, there are specialized drones that use this data to spread the distribution of water and nutritional resources to the crops as per their requirements.

There are personally installed irrigation and fertilization units that can be manually and automatically controlled by the specialized agricultural drones to provide fertilization and irrigation to the land.

Assessing Crop Health:

Credit: SciTech Now

You guessed it, there are agricultural drones that contain mechanisms of highlighting insect and bacterial or fungal infestations on the surface of the crops from the imaging and monitoring.

Using Near-Infrared Light, these drones can pinpoint the location of the damaged crops with the help of varying colors. The proprietary software can be used to identify these areas.

Then proper actions can be taken manually or with the help of automated crop-dusting drones. Again, the efficiency and ease of surveying and monitoring are much better than conventional farming.

This basically shows that agriculture has incorporated drone technology in all of its fields. From the planting process to the growth assessment and harvesting, everything can be controlled using agricultural drones.

What Are the Benefits of Agricultural Drones?

There are many reasons to implement drone technology in your farms. Sure, the costs may seem high at the start, but in the long-run, producing more yields and reducing other requirements, agricultural drones are going to prove much beneficial.

Let’s look at some of the best benefits of using agricultural drones for farming and crop production.

Increasing Overall Efficiency:

The main benefit of agricultural drones is the efficiency they bring to the slow and hard process of crop farming. It’s not that drone technology only increases the efficiency of growth but it actually covers a much greater area.

In the planting phase as well as the dusting phase and the harvesting phase, drones can put in much more work in significantly little time while producing better results.

Especially in the monitoring phase, conventional agriculture would require farmers to take long walks through the fields to manually check the crop health. Drone technology has made that process obsolete.

With a more accurate and wider span of monitoring capabilities, agricultural drones are truly one of the best and most productive advancements in modern farming.

Reducing Human Labor:

The higher the scale of your drone technology implementation, the more reduced the amount of human labor. It is a direct relation between agricultural drones and human resource requirements.

With agricultural drones, you’re going to need skilled drone pilots who’ll be able to assess and deal with different problems and situations occurring within the fields.

However, meanwhile, you won’t need as many farmers and workers to monitor, plant, and harvest crops as they grow. This is another great benefit of drones in agriculture.

Multiplying Crop Yield:

The best benefit in this list, according to my opinion has to be this one. The efficiency and accuracy of agricultural drones basically translate to higher productivity and larger crop yields.

Human error of judgment in monitoring, identification, weather predictions, surface choices, pesticide and insecticide dusting can be a huge problem in general but that’s not the case with specialized machines.

Drones used in agriculture are designed for such purposes and perform their duties to the fullest.

This results in better crop production and higher yield in the long-run which brings more profits and cuts down the costs significantly.

Adapting to Changing Technology:

A minor but worth mentioning the benefit of introducing drone technology to your crop farm is the adaptation to increasingly changing technology.

We all know and understand that without adaptation, businesses cannot survive in today’s market. There are many examples of companies that failed because of the under-utilization of digital marketing techniques.

Similarly, in an increasing technology-dependent agriculture market, it is better for you to learn and morph your production methods to the need of the hour. Because an adaptable business is a successful one.

Agricultural Drone Pilot:Carrier-

In today’s age, there are incredibly many career opportunities in the market. Most people tend to go to one of the few mainstream fields, but agriculture and technology department has many opportunities.

Becoming an agricultural drone pilot can be a good career choice. According to estimates, agricultural drone pilots receive an average annual salary of around $75 thousand which is pretty great.

What Are the Requirements for an Agricultural Drone Pilot?

If you’re interested in the field of agriculture, and you want to become an agricultural drone pilot in the near future, here are the general requirements for this position.

  • Learning and adopting all the drone flight rules and regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration.
  • Applying for FAA-certification and passing the FAA electronic knowledge test.
  • Registering your drone with the FAA before professional usage. Registration will be valid for three years.
  • Having adequate knowledge and understanding of agriculture or ideally a bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences. This is because as an agricultural drone pilot, there are more responsibilities than just flying drones.

What Is the Role of Agricultural Drone Pilot?

You might be wondering, what falls in the duties of an agricultural drone pilot? Well, to let you know, I’ve created a list of the activities and duties that you’ll have to perform as an agricultural drone pilot.

  • As a professional drone pilot, you’re going to evaluate the fertility of land based on the thermal and infrared imaging provided by the drone cameras and create a formal land mapping for the production.
  • Periodic farm monitoring and plant health assessment based on drone live-feed and imaging technology.
  • Handling the manipulation and control of advanced specialized drone systems customized according to the requirement of the farm or the company.
  • Creating automated patterns of routing for the drone to follow for monitoring the entirety of the fields to increase efficiency and accuracy.
  • Taking measures to maintain the crops and providing suggestions to deal with the existing problems within the plant fields.

Top 5 Best Drones for Agriculture:

Now that you know the incredible benefits that agricultural drones have had in the agriculture industry; you must be thinking of getting some for your business.

Here’s a list of the top 5 best drones for agriculture available in the market in terms of price, value, features, and design.

Let’s take a brief look into each of them.

1. DJI Agras MG-1 Spraying Drone:

From one of the most popular consumer drone manufacturers of the world comes one of the best agricultural drones in the market – the DJI Agras MG-1 Spraying drone.

It comes with an 8-rotor design, carries a payload of around 10 kilograms worth of liquid pesticides, insecticides, and fertilizer. It can cover an area of over 7-10 acres in a span of only an hour.

This is dozens of times faster than manual crop dusting.

There are many unique flight modes in this drone along with a high-quality spraying mechanism. That’s why, even for a high price, I’d definitely recommend it.

DJI Agras MG-1 is an agricultural drone
DJI Agras MG-1can carry up too 10kgs

2. DJI Matrice 210 V2:

If you’re looking for a drone with a high-quality monitoring camera for your crops, then you need to look no further than the incredible DJI Matrice 210 V2.

This drone comes equipped with dual-cameras allowing high-powered zoom as well as infrared picture capture. Thanks to this drone, you can monitor and assess the health of your crops without a second thought.

All you’re going to need is a professional skilled drone pilot capable of managing and deciphering the thermal advanced imaging that crop monitoring required for accurate decision-making. So, definitely keep this one in mind.

A Black color DJI Matrice 210 V2.
DJI Matrice 210 V2 comes with a dual camera

3. Parrot Bluegrass Fields Agricultural Drone:

The French competitor of DJI also doesn’t hold back when it comes to high-quality agricultural drones. With the Parrot Bluegrass Fields Agricultural Drone, crop monitoring and mapping just became easier.

This drone comes with the integrated multi spectral Parrot Sequoia sensor along with a 14MP RGB camera. It can be used for both land mapping as well as visual scouting for close inspections. I highly recommend it.

Parrot Bluegrass Fields drone with all its equipments.
Parrot Bluegrass Fields is great for mapping and monitoring

4. SenseFly eBee SQ:

Uniquely designed specifically for soil mapping, the SenseFly eBee SQ is a beautiful and highly capable drone. You should definitely keep it on your priority list.

It comes with the Parrot Sequoia+ sensor which is precise and accurate when it comes to multi spectral imaging. So, you’re going to be incredibly satisfied with your land mapping results with this one.

SenseFly ebee SQ flying above the field.
SenseFly ebee SQ is uniquely designed for soil mapping

5. DJI Agras T16 Crop Dusting Drone:

With a smart and sturdy hex rotor design, DJI provides one of the best crop-dusting drones in the market in the form of the DJI Agras T16 Crop dusting drone.

It comes with a 16L spray tank along with a DBF imaging radar, a wide-angle FPV camera, and a smart AI engine for accurate spraying.

So, with this drone, you’re never going to miss the targeted crops, making sure each of them receives the perfect amount of nutrients every time.

DJI Agras T-16 spraying pesticide on the crops.
DJI Agras T-16 is one of the best crop dusting drones.

DJI AGRAS T20 Review 2021

Future of Drone Technology in Agriculture:

In my opinion, the future of drone technology is very bright in the agriculture sector. The basic reason for this is that in today’s market, if the entire process of farming can be automated, it is not easily accessible.

In the future, I believe that companies would be aiming to create specialized agricultural drones for crop growth, efficiency, and ease for lower consumer prices to provide people with easier drone accessibility.

The million-dollar question is, should you invest in drones? Well, definitely, if you have the funds to do so. If you are low on budgets, I’d suggest implementing drone technology in agriculture but in increments.

You can start off with a monitoring drone. They’re easily accessible and cheap. Then, once you witness growth, you can move to higher-quality equipment.

The reason I suggest this is that drone technology in agriculture will peak in the future

Happy Droning!

What Is the Role of Drone Technology in the Agriculture Sector?
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What Is the Role of Drone Technology in the Agriculture Sector?
This article is about the role of drones in agriculture. Drones play a major part in improving the way farming is done in a smart way.
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