The global population is growing at apparently unprecedented rates. It’s expected to exceed 8.5 billion people by 2030 and, as a direct result, challenges could begin to arise.
These challenges can be found in the provision and production of food throughout the world, particularly as natural environments become more volatile. In response, industry leaders are probably going to look for tech-driven solutions that can help improve agricultural processes.
Among the many recent innovations, IoT-powered drones may be regarded by many as being among the most powerful tools for tackling crop production.
There are 3 main agricultural solutions
Enhanced digital infrastructures can pave the way towards better processes that minimise waste and maximise output. This can ultimately allow for greater sustainability. Farming is a crucial aspect that can benefit from technological advancement and includes watering and planting, as well as harvest management and the evaluation of crop health.
These agricultural technologies generally fall into three categories that make up the pillars of the smart farm; UAVs or drone, autonomous robots and the Internet of things (IoT).
Working in unison, these technological pillars can bring a series of groundbreaking developments to the agricultural sector.
Connectivity as a key
A whole host of IoT projects may show that connected devices are the way of the future. There’s probably no exception when it comes to equipment and devices related to farming.
For one, components like sensors and connectivity capabilities are reinforcing farm machinery in ways that were never thought possible.
By 2025, sensors for the monitoring of crops, animals and environmental factors will be shipped in the billions. This not only alludes to a massive market for device and equipment vendors but also presents opportunities for a consistent increase in the efficiency of processes.
With growing connectivity, a foundation for analytics and deployment can occur through the use of drones and other forms of advanced machinery. While standard plane crop inspections are costly (ranging up to $1,000 per hour), aerial inspections have become more affordable and just as effective, with many smaller agricultural businesses benefitting from the transition. Drones act as smart eyes that watch over acres of land, collecting data at reasonable prices.
Drones as multi-faceted crop managers
Drone technology has introduced an array of capabilities. Harnessing the power of IoT, drones equipped with cameras and sensors are able to capture geo-information with levels of precision and accuracy that wouldn’t be achieved by human teams.
Aerial imagery captured by drones can reveal patterns not apparent at eye level, including irrigation issues, pest or fungal infestations and soil variation (among other things). These images can even be taken in infrared, revealing information that would otherwise be naked to the naked eye. Such data can lead to important insights on plant yield production, plant health and plant height.
Drones can even offer customized specifications based on location data to develop tailored routes for different farm areas, adding the right dosages of fertilizer or pesticides for better results. A South African farmer reported that drone spraying had reduced pesticide use by 30%.
Providing real-time analytics
A drone’s results are in real-time, so users can receive actionable, field-level same-day data for immediacy and convenience. This has helped boost the industry’s rate of production to an incredible new level.
Drones have also been known to require lower costs by using systems that reduce planting costs by up to 85%. Precision spraying drones can decrease pesticide needs. Drones are considered significantly more affordable than many other farm equipment, paying for themselves within a single growing season (or even the first half).
Getting a bird’s eye view of fields in the past required hiring a helicopter or small aircraft pilot for aerial photography, but drones equipped with cameras have quickly disrupted that costly process.
Drones of the future may be even more advanced
The building and testing of prototype drones indicate that the future of agriculture is looking bright. Several companies and researchers are now working to design drones that can be used in seeding and planting, replacing the need for manual labour altogether. Testing is being done and we might soon see the creation of drones that can use compressed air to fire capsules that contain seed pods directly into the ground. This could be one of the best forms of precision agriculture that the planet has ever had.
Two such companies that are delving into innovative research, are DroneSeed and BioCarbon. They are both developing drones that could potentially carry modules that shoot tree seeds into the ground at optimal locations. Imagine these modules being reconfigured to suit a variety of seeds, and equipped with IoT and autonomous software capabilities. Imagine a fleet of drones deploying precise planting into ideal conditions for optimal growth for crops. This could be coming up soon in conversations about crop quality and agricultural efficiency.
However, there is still room for error
As remarkable and precise as drones can be to agriculture, there are still things to watch out for. The University of Queensland has urged caution, suggesting that results may not be as reliable if the drone’s data is processed incorrectly. There are factors to watch out for, such as the angle of the sun or the drone’s altitude. These factors could lead to inaccurate readings and wrong results.
A solution could be to ensure that aerial imaging and drone piloting is undertaken by experienced professionals and processed correctly. The development of skilled drone pilots and engineers should be viewed as just as important, and certification programmes, as well as training initiatives, should be grown in tandem with the technologies.
Drones have brought the agricultural sector a host of benefits, ranging from convenience and the opportunity to save time, resources and work. Integrated GIS mapping, crop health imaging and an evident ability to increase yields are just some of the reasons why drone technology could continue to make an impact on crop quality management.
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