How Drones Could Change Farming – Forever

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As the world of technology continues to progress, farmers around the world are curious about the technologies that will change the landscape of agriculture in the 21st century.

After all, farming and agriculture at-large was changed dramatically in the 20th century, with mechanization, advanced irrigation techniques, the best herbicides for farms and genetically modified crops becoming available, alongside dozens of other, smaller innovations that have changed the world of farming completely over the last 100 years.

So it’s only natural that, as we stand a decade and a half into this new century, we would turn our thoughts to the future, and wonder about the innovations that, even now, are changing the world of farming – more advanced pesticides and herbicides? Increased mechanization? More effective genetically modified crops? These are all possibilities, but there is one technology that’s poised to not just be an evolution, but a revolution for modern farmers.

Drones! As the drone market continues to grow, technology continues to evolve, and the price of high-tech drone technology falls, many farmers are turning to drones – both quadcopters and traditional glider designs – as one of the most useful modern tools in their arsenal, for a variety reasons. Let’s take a deeper look at what drones can offer to the modern farmer.

Automated Drones Could Reduce the Cost of Crop Spraying

Industry leader DJI, best known for their Phantom video platform, recently announced a $15,000 drone specialized to spray crops. This drone uses a microwave radar to scan the ground and crops below it, and dispense the appropriate amount of liquid from its 10 liter tank – a process which, according to the company, is over 40x more efficient than manual spraying.

This drone is also able to act autonomously, semi-autonomously, or be operated manually by a drone pilot, and is designed for all-weather operation with a dustproof, water-resistant, anti-corrosive build.

While this drone is quite expensive, there are plenty of other solutions out there in this growing field – including totally autonomous fleet solutions designed for fully autonomous coverage.

These products are still niche, and quite expensive, but as time goes on and drone prices continue to fall, we wouldn’t be surprised if the farms of tomorrow incorporated large drone fleets as an alternative to manual and traditional aerial crop spraying methods.

Drones Are Being Used To Examine and Track Crop Growth – For Pennies Compared to Traditional Methods

Drones aren’t just useful for spraying – even some of the cheapest consumer drones pack multiple-megapixel cameras, and when the appropriate software is used, they can stitch together massive images of whatever they pass over on their flights.

This technology holds a lot of promise for farmers, as aerial views of their crops can help track crop development, struggling areas, and help workers prioritize troublesome areas in the fields that need extra help.

This technology is also extremely cheap compared to sprayer drones – just about any farmer can afford a drone and a software suite to help them analyze their crops, in stark contrast to even 20 years, ago, when you had to spend thousands of dollars on a plane or helicopter to take aerial pictures of your crops. According to a study by MIT, this could be one of the most meaningful innovations in agriculture in recent years.

Drone Technology Could Hold The Key to Creating New, Durable Varieties of Wheat and Grains

NIFA, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, has awarded Kansas City State University nearly $100,000 in grants for a drone research program – not for standard crop harvesting techniques, but in a unique method meant to help develop hardier, more durable strains of common crops like wheat and other grains.

The program would use drones to examine wheat-breeding nurseries, similar to standard uses of aerial photography technology in agriculture – but by quickly identifying breeds of wheat that do better than others and cross-breeding them, this program has great potential to aid geneticists and researchers in developing countries who are looking for cheap, reliable sources of food and seeds that can provide it.

This real-time insight on crop performance is something quite new, and it bodes well for the future of agriculture both in the US, and worldwide. Varietals for specific areas and with specific traits will be able to be developed much more quickly, and this project has potential to influence the worldwide seed market – though it’s still in the early stages of development.

Wrap-up

If you’re in the agriculture business, you’ve probably already looked into some of these uses for UAVs – and you may not be sold yet. But low-cost drones have the potential to totally revolutionize the industry – not just by conducting automated sprays, but by giving farmers the intelligence and knowledge about their crops that can help them increase yields, decrease the spread of parasites and fungus, and target problem areas with laser-sharp precision.
It’s certainly an interesting time to be in both the drone industry and the agricultural industry, and since the drone market continues to grow, it will be interesting to see how both market sectors influence each other in the coming years.

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