June 11, 2018
Food waste impacts more than just the economy; it has a hard-hitting effect on the environment as well. Every year, one third of the world’s food is lost during production. Fortunately, advancements in precision agriculture technology are helping to curb this issue. Drones are still commonly thought of in terms of military applications, but they are rapidly moving into the agriculture sector and changing the way food is grown.
As the world population increases, so too will the size of farms. Food consumption is projected to increase by close to 70 percent over the next few decades, necessitating an overhaul in farming management.
Although drone technology for farming applications is still fairly novel, the number of drones is expected to increase dramatically in just a couple years. The Federal Aviation Authority issued a press release this year stating that the number of commercial drones will quadruple, bringing the total number of drones to about half a million by 2020. This means that capability and accuracy will only continue to improve.
Drones can scout huge swaths of land with a level of speed and efficiency that was never possible before. The boots-on-the-ground way of surveying land is limiting, as many farmers cannot evaluate all of their land themselves in one day. Drones can cover hundreds of acres, gather crucial data about field status and send the information back to farmers within minutes. If one field needs to be addressed immediately, a farmer can address the issue exactly when and where it is needed. Identifying a part of the field that needs help is considerably more efficient than applying uniform amounts of fertilizer, water or pesticides across an entire field.
Farmers can also dispatch a drone to identify unhealthy crops or irrigation issues and send back video, satellite maps and multispectral images of the land. The use of multi-spectral sensors enable drones to make maps that show where there are an excess of or lack of certain nutrients. Similarly, thermal imaging in drone cameras can identify patches of land that are either over or under-watered, allowing farmers to deliver more precise irrigation and reduce water waste. Hot, arid regions that are prone to drought benefit hugely from this feature.
Before drone technology existed, farmers relied on costly and imprecise agricultural aircrafts for pesticide application. Drones not only reduce the risk of over-spraying, they get the job done about five times faster than traditional crop dusting aircrafts.
In addition to making everyday tasks easier, drones can also be used to gather critical data when it’s unsafe for humans to do so. When inclement weather makes driving conditions too risky, drones can be flown to affected areas and gather analytics about what land is salvageable and how the weather will affect future yields.
The modernization of agriculture is inevitable to keep pace with the increase in demand for food. By helping farmers determine the precise amount of water, fertilizer and pesticides that crops need, drones can save time and resources, improving yields and farmer’s bottom lines. As agricultural technology continues to become more innovative, farmers across the globe will have the opportunity to work smarter and maximize their efficiency.