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Agricultural Drones: How they are being used

Last updated on

September 11, 2018


    Visit any modern farm these days and you’re just as likely to find drones or unmanned aerial vehicles going about their business as you are a tractor and trailer. Like many other industries, drones have transformed the way agricultural businesses operate over the past 3-5 years.

    Drone technology has introduced precision agriculture to farms that help them to reduce costs and improve productivity. So in this technology review, we are going to look at specific use cases for drones on farms and the types of drones that are being used.

    Because of the wide variety of agricultural tasks drones carry out, it is common to find a range of UAVs on farms, including fixed wing and multirotor devices. The work they do is diverse but essentially falls into one of the following four categories; crop management, agricultural surveying, crop dusting and livestock monitoring.

    So let’s have a look at each of these in more detail:

    Crop management

    There is no more an important task on a farm than crop management. The crop management cycle is split into five phases, planning, preparation, planting, growing, and harvesting. Drones can provide support at every stage of the crop cycle, but we will focus on the growing stage because this is the area which has proved to be the most profitable.

    Traditionally, farmers carry out crop counts or plant stands early in the growing season to establish the current state of the crop. This helps the farmer determine what actions need to be taken to improve the harvest.

    This usually involves the farmer manually counting the crop within several defined areas of the field. Using this information, the farmer can work out an average plant stand for the whole field. But this system is reliant on the crop having a uniform plant population across the entire field. Which as any farmer will tell you, is seldom the case.

    By using a drone equipped with a multispectral camera, the whole field can be scanned in a matter of minutes. The results can then be analyzed to help the farmer accurately predict plant yields for the season. Soil and crop health can also be monitored throughout the growing season, allowing the farmer to better plan irrigation and fertilizer use.

    Best drones for crop management

    DJI Matrice 100 – This is a popular drone for crop management, being one of the most versatile drones on the market today. Designed specifically for commercial use, this quadcopter comes with dual batteries for increased flight time and can carry a range of payloads. When fitted with a multispectral camera the Matrice 100 can cover around 200 acres on a single flight.

    But one of the best things about the Matrice 100 is that a flight plan can be pre-programmed using the PrecisionFlight app from DJI. This allows the drone operator to quickly create a flight plan which the drone will automatically follow to collect data.

    WingtraOne VTOL – This is a fixed-wing drone specifically designed for agricultural drone service. Not only is it a fixed-wing drone, but it also features vertical takeoff and landing, allowing it to take off like a quadcopter. Being a fixed-wing drone it provides greater range and higher cruise speed than a multirotor.

    The Wingtra allows a flight to be pre-planned via the intelligent WingtraPilot software. With the touch of a button, the Wingtra is up in the air and automatically capturing surveying data.

    Matrice 100

    Agricultural surveying

    Until now farmers had to rely on information gained from the ground to manage their property. Drones, however, allow for 3D maps of the farm to be easily created from the air, allowing farmers to plan soil tillage, crop rotations and animal grazing grounds more effectively.

    Being able to monitor and plan farm activities this way, will ensure that biodiversity is respected and profitability is ensured. Using the data collected the farmer can take practical steps to improve farm management practices, including areas such as fertiliser and pesticide use, building maintenance and the protection of landscape features and wildlife habitats.

    Best drones for agricultural surveying

    DJI Matrice 100 – Due to the vast areas of land to be surveyed, agricultural surveying requirements differ from conventional aerial surveys. While a conventional aerial survey can be carried out with a DJI Phantom 4, an agricultural survey will most likely need the extra range provided by the Matrice 100 series.

    The Matrice 100 is the drone of choice for agricultural surveying due to its incredible range, manoeuvrability and state-of-the-art obstacle avoidance system. This enables it to deal with common farm obstacles, such as grain silos, trees and power lines. And with a range of up to 200 acres, it can cover even the largest farm in a few hours.

    Crop dusting/spraying

    The spraying of pesticides from a UAV is not yet legal in the UK, but trails are being carried out with the aim of operations to begin in 2019. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has already set the precedent here, approving drones weighing more than 55 pounds for fertilizer and pesticide use in 2015.

    By using a drone such as the DJI Agras MG-1 farmers can spray crops with far more precision and efficiency than using traditional methods. This helps to reduce costs and lowers the risk of chemical exposure to farm workers, while the environment also benefits due to lower levels of pesticide contamination in surrounding areas.

    Best drones for crop dusting/spraying

    DJI Agras MG-1 – The multirotor Agras MG-1 has been trailing pesticide spraying in the UK for over 12 months now, making it the ideal drone to use for pesticide spraying once UK regulations allow.

    With a lifting capacity of 10 kg and a range of over 10,000 sqm, the Agras MG-1 has the capability to transform agriculture overnight. DJI claims the Agras can cover a distance of 4,000-6,000 m² in just 10 minutes, making it 40-60 times more efficient than traditional spraying methods.

    Livestock monitoring

    Monitoring livestock can be a labour intensive business which involves venturing out into the field at all times of the day and night to check the health of the animals. On smaller farms, this is done on foot, while on larger farms quad bikes or Land Rovers are used. But no matter which method is used, the job is tiresome and can be dangerous.

    By using a drone to fly over the land, farmers can easily check on their animal’s welfare. Water levels can be checked and animals in distress can be quickly identified. Drones can even be used to herd cattle. When livestock sees a drone they react the same way as they would if it were a dog or motorcycle. This allows the dairy farmer to bring his herd in for milking, without having to venture out into the field.

    Best drones for livestock monitoring

    DJI Matrice 100 – The Matrice 100 platform is one of the most adaptable and stable drones flying today. The M100 series is easy to fly, can carry a range of payloads and has excellent obstacle detection capabilities. When combined with its range of up to 200 acres on a single charge, the Matrice 100 drone really is the drone of choice for agriculture applications.

    If you would like more information about how drones can transform your agricultural business, get in touch with the experts at COPTRZ. As one of the leading commercial drone suppliers and training providers in the UK, we have the knowledge to help you choose the right drone for your agricultural requirements.

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