If you’ve ever flown a model airplane, you can fly a drone. If you haven’t flown a model airplane… you can still fly a drone. Because of how technology has evolved, it’s now easier than ever to take advantage of the new opportunities advancing ag tech has to offer. Over the last decade, drone technology has steadily been growing as part of a practical approach to sustainable farm management. Ag retailers, farmers, and agronomists use drones to streamline their operations, using robust data analytics to fully understand their crops. Drone technology is helping to address some of the most prominent challenges in agriculture. Challenges such as the lack of real-time data access, crop loss, and inconsistent health monitoring are reduced when you build drones into the farm management plan.
How? We’ve highlighted four ways that drone technology is revolutionizing farm management.
In precision soil sampling, data not only provides insights into past performance; it also ensures that you proactively catch potential red flags. After planting, a drone-driven soil analysis can then provide data for irrigation management. However, drones are not only useful after planting; they can also help create valuable deliverables like variable-rate prescriptions, making them instrumental throughout the entire crop cycle.
Before you can get into which type of soil collection process you want to implement, you first need to determine where you’re going to collect your samples. The area you pull your samples from may depend on soil type, topography, crops grown, or even management history. So the best practice for determining where to start is by using precision soil sampling techniques. Utilizing drone technology at this level is one of the most efficient ways to establish that kind of baseline understanding of your farm.
Drones can scan the ground and spray the correct amount of liquid, modulating distance from the ground and spraying in real-time for even coverage. The result: increased spraying efficiency during irrigation and decreased chemical overuse during spraying.
During irrigation, drones have sensors that can identify which parts of a field are dry or need improvements. Once your crops are growing, drones allow the calculation of the relative size and health of those crops, making it simple for you to give your crops what they need.
Now, a common problem in spraying is inconsistency. Too often, farmers spray excess chemicals, and both crops and local watersheds suffer from it. Crop nutrients and pesticides attach to soil particles and are then carried and deposited in waterways with the soil. By using drone technology, you can reduce the number of chemicals that end up in local waterways.
It’s essential to monitor crop health and spot bacterial or fungal infections on trees. Scanning crops with drone-carried devices can identify potential red flags in your fields. This information can produce images that track changes in plants and indicate their health, and a speedy response can save an entire field. Additionally, as soon as you discover an issue, you can take action quickly and precisely.
Due to environmental factors beyond your control like rainfall, soil nutrients change from year to year. This makes it impossible to use the same products and rates on every field and expect to experience consistent yields farm-wide. So your farm plan must adapt. Using drone technology to create variable-rate prescriptions allows you to apply components at different rates across a field, thereby reducing soil damage and increasing your fields’ lifespan in the long run.
Large fields with low efficiency in crop monitoring together create one of farming’s biggest obstacles; timing. In the ag industry, timing is everything. Being able to monitor your fields regularly is vital to your success. For example, if there is a disease outbreak in one of your fields, you should be in a position to take action quickly. Satellite images often have to be ordered in advance, can’t be taken more than once a day, and are imprecise. On the other hand, Drones can give you a map of your field in a matter of minutes.
The value of data isn’t about how much of it you have; it’s about how you can use it. Data is only meaningful if a farmer or trusted advisor can solve problems and make informed decisions quickly with it.
Whether drones are already a part of your farm management plan or you are debating if you should, drones are revolutionizing the ag industry. To ensure both a competitive edge and a sustainable life span for your farm, take a look at your farm management plan and see where drones can fit in.