Up-and-Coming Precision Agriculture Technology: Farm Drones
Unmanned aerial vehicles or UAV systems, otherwise known as drones, have become a hot media topic as we roll into 2014.
Amazon may have made drones a popular topic with the unveiling of their pending launch of UAV systems set to deliver packages to recipients, but UAV systems, projected to add $82 billion in economic activity between 2015 and 2025, are also seeing a lot of promise in the field of agriculture.
UAV systems are at the forefront of advances in high technology agriculture. Last year, drones for agricultural use graced the 2013 InfoAg Conference with a total of six drone designs exhibited. The GPS-driven drones’ ability to collect remote imagery at any time, anywhere has gained mass appeal with growers.
Even so, commercial use of drones is still under review. FAA regulations restrict drone operation to federal and governmental agencies, and growers using drones for agricultural use may still be a few years off.
Understanding Where the Future of Precision Agriculture Is Headed
The future of drones for agriculture use has already piqued the interest of companies looking to add GPS-referenced, high-resolution mapping and imagery solutions to their business portfolio. Here are some examples of potential future uses for this technology:
- Surveying crops
- Monitoring diseases
- Determining precision application rates of pesticides and fertilizers
- Monitoring Irrigation
- Planting and harvest crops
Although drones are still a work in progress, the good news for growers is that CropMetrics currently operates precision agriculture technology capable of addressing similar site-specific needs.
In addition, the current application for drone use relies on high-resolution photography of the current condition of the field. While this application may greatly enhance productivity, birds-eye view photographs of site-specific field conditions involve many fluctuating variables.
True precision agriculture does not revolve around a shifting foundational base. Instead, a solid foundation of EC mapping and RTK elevation data determines each site-specific fixed foundational base.
CropMetrics offers mapping services through our Precision Starter Program. The one time, high-resolution data retrieved from EC mapping and RTK elevation enables growers to make informed management decisions about other precision agriculture programs offered through CropMetrics.
These services, such as Variable Rate Irrigation, Variable Rate Seeding, and Variable Rate Fertilizer use the solid, fixed-foundational base of variables to implement these management plans. And the data only needs to be collected one time.
Kylen Hunt, CropMetrics PDS Manager, addressed managing field variables that do not change in a recent post highlighting his work with our company.
This ability to create solid evidence for success of precision ag requires a data management plan designed on managing variability that does not change. If our precision ag programs are built and designed using data that changes every year when we collect new data, that can become very hard to manage.
Drones for Precision Agriculture?
Although drones are gaining popularity in the agriculture sector, determining if the technology will enhance your operation has yet to be determined.
For example, one of the future uses of drones is to helping growers determine precision application rates of pesticides and fertilizers. But at present, drone aerial imagery would have to be taken each growing season, if not more often, to supply growers with a visual analysis of their field with either high-resolution photography or infrared photography to illustrate plant stress.
On the other hand, for specific applications, such as using drones to identify desirable breeds, thousands of field hours harvesting and testing individual grains could potentially be replaced with a simple UAV system photo.
Perhaps over the next few years, drones will change the face of precision agriculture (pending FAA approval, of course). But at least at this point in time, drones would not be a sensible alternative to precision agriculture programs such as those offered through CropMetrics. While that may change in the future, for now, understanding your fixed-foundational framework is still the key to increasing yields while reducing inputs and managing natural resources, no matter the technology at hand.