Drones and their Use in Agriculture

Drones are playing an increasingly important role in worldwide agriculture. Against a backdrop of a growing world population, faced with the challenge of sustaining food production with dwindling resources, drones can offer a reasonably priced precision farming solution.

How can Drones Help

The ability to scan large tracts of land that by their nature, inhibit access and manoeuvrability is something that is ideally suited to an unmanned aerial vehicles. Much time can be saved over a ground level survey when assessing land condition, crop health and identifying problem areas.  There is also less risk of damage to crops from vehicles when the camera is in the sky.

In fact, this month DJI (China’s leading commercial drone company) have announced an increase in their marketing spend to the farming community in an effort to raise awareness of what UAVs have to offer the world of agriculture.  A cynic might say that this change in focus shows issues with a dwindling consumer market, but the fact remains that industrial drone usage is undoubtedly a growth area and land management will form a key component of this.

If the goal of precision agriculture is to apply the valuable resources a farmer has available to create the maximum yield they can, then data will be key.  The drone’s ability to quickly and simply gather geo-tagged images of fields over time will be the cornerstone of this data gathering process. The images can be more frequent than aerial images created using manned aircraft because the cost of creating them is so much lower and the detail recorded is far greater than satellite images that would otherwise have been used.

  • Plant condition
  • Disease checking
  • Weed presence
  • Pre-planting field surveys
  • Drought assessment
  • Yield monitoring

Drones and Crop Spraying

The drone’s ability to cover large areas of terrain, even if the areas are hard to access on foot, makes it ideal for the application of sprays to treat weeds or disease.  While this is currently not legal in the UK, companies such as Drone AG are currently conducting trials and working with the CAA with the hope of making this potential a reality in 2019.  It is likely that others won’t be far behind which will put an automation solution within easy reach of many farm operators.

Agriculture, Drone Flights and the Law

With increasing restrictions being applied to the use of drones in urban areas, farmland would seem to present pleasingly few flight restriction challenges (although proximity of airports will always be an issue). Farmers are free to purchase and fly drones over their own properties of course, but using the data or images in a third party application or providing it to an outside body such as an agronomist, moves this into the realms of ‘Commercial Operation’.  Here the relevant laws would apply – the pilot would need be qualified and in possession of the relevant insurance and PfCO.

Faced with the challenges of obtaining and maintaining this stature as well as the initial outlay investment and cost of ongoing maintenance, outsourcing might well be a good solution. In this case, the fact that Drone Safe Register can offer a nation-wide register of legal pilots making it fast and easy to find your local operator a great way to leverage ‘drone power’ over your own farmland.

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