Drones and Farming – 9 Amazing Applications for This Growing IndustryJune 6, 2019 2 By Scott Hinkle
Drones, drones, drones. Toys, tools, menace or god-send; all of the above can be applied at one time or another. I’ve touched on drones being used for good in my Positive Press series and I try to cover all aspects in my other postings to give a true overall picture of drone use today.
As you know, drones are popping up everywhere. From oil pipe and power line inspections, construction, and surveying to search and rescue, sports, news and so on, it seems like new uses are being found every day. Agriculture is a perfect fit for drones. Let’s take a look at Drones and Farming…
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Drones and Farming, Really?
Absolutely! And why not? Drones can be used for all sorts of things and even help to take potential danger to people out of the equation. Farming is a perfect place to apply drones. They can’t replace all aspects of farming, yet, but they can help out in several ways.
We’re going to break down a few uses for Drones and Farming and place them into two categories: Obvious Uses and Surprising Uses. I’m willing to bet that I don’t know all there is to know about drones and farming. I am a drone pilot but I am not a farmer and I live in the suburbs of Sacramento, CA, not really near any farms myself.
That said, I try to keep up on things and welcome any input you might have as to other uses for drones on the farm that I haven’t listed here. Let’s get started…
Now, without even looking anything up or doing any research, what jobs on the farm can be taken over or supplemented by using drones? I can think of four myself:
Crop Dusting is an inherently dangerous job. Today’s drones are gaining the range, load capacity and accuracy to help make this a safer endeavor. All a farmer has to do is program the flight characteristics into the drone, load it up and hit go.
No more kamikaze pilot making the low flight crop dusting patterns and, with the super accurate GPS available today, the drones can hover much closer to the crops and apply the chemicals much more efficiently and with greater accuracy.
In the long run, it will be cheaper and safer for the farmer. Maybe not so much for the crop dusting pilot.
This one is basically just like the crop dusting feature listed previously but with the payload being seeds instead of chemicals. The flying drones aren’t yet preparing the soil and setting up the rows but they can definitely deploy the seeds. This should help farmers speed this process up a bit and allow them to sit back a little (not that a farmer has much free time as it is).
Crop Monitoring/Health Checking
There are actually companies that specialize in this category. I’ve been hired a couple of times myself to provide areal images for various orchards. This information helps give the farmer and/or potential buyers a bird’s eye view of the crops and their current health status. Taking it up a notch, with thermal cameras and other specialized equipment, and the farmer can gather a much more details account of the current health of their crops.
We’ve already touched on the crop dusting and the chemicals and pesticides they can deploy but bugs aren’t the only pests to worry about. Drones can be used to scare off birds, coyotes, deer and any other critters looking to eat up a farmers profits. Either manually controller or running on an automated course, drones are very effective in scaring off unwanted critters.
These were the obvious ones that popped into my head and you might know of others that I hadn’t considered. Now, let’s take a look at a couple that I hadn’t considered but heard about through others…
Now, here’s some uses I hadn’t considered for drones when it comes to farming. Some may be obvious to you but, to me, they weren’t so obvious and thus ended up here.
Yes you heard me right (no pun intended). There’s actually a few articles talking about how farm dogs are being put out of business by using barking drones to herd animals. LOL, I’m not kidding! Check this one out from DroneDJ:
I’m actually not sure why this one surprised me. I use drones myself to take insurance shots for home damage. Why not for crops too. It just never occurred to me so I have to place it here. Farmers buy insurance for their crops just like we do for our cars and homes. When they need to make a claim they need to provide evidence and proof. A drone can help gather what they need quickly.
Soil and Field Analysis
When I think farming, I think of the crops and animals. I don’t consider the actual behind the scenes stuff. Drones can be quite useful at the start of the crop cycle. They produce precise 3-D maps for early soil analysis, useful in planning seed planting patterns. Drones can be used to extract soil characteristics such as temperature, moisture, slope, elevation and so on.
Irrigation and Drainage Planning and Troubleshooting
Using data collected from the drones, proper irrigation and drainage plans can be made. They can also be used to see where current configurations may need adjustment (i.e. not enough or too much water, etc.).
Using drones to collect data at critical growth stages, can help those involved adjust current models and adjust predictions based on that new data. This, in turn, can lead to better crop returns and cut down on waste. Such data can also be used to help assess overall crop quality and yield.
Now, to those in the farming community, these probably aren’t all that surprising to you but, to me, they were unexpected, especially the new dog drone, LOL. I’m sure there are still many more uses that I am simply unaware of when it comes to farming, but these are the ones I know of now.
More to Come
As you can see, a farm is a great place for a drone to find work. I don’t know the logistics of all of this so I can’t really comment on the price vs reward aspect of it but there are a couple that I can imagine might save a lot of money.
Crop Dusting is definitely one of them. Aircraft fuel isn’t cheap and the pilot probably isn’t either. Add to that, the aspect of safety by removing the pilot from harms way and I see a real argument for using drones in such a manner. I suspect, dogs are pretty cheap labor so I’m not sure about a barking drone being cost effective, but what do I know.
So what’s next? I can’t really say. I suspect more attachments and features will be added that will be of use to the farming community. It might be some new data gathering tool or maybe an auger so the drone can actually prep the field before seeding. All I know is the sky’s the limit when it comes to drones and finding new uses for them.
I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out as I’m always looking for some new obscure drone feature or attachment to pop up. When something catches my eye, I’ll be sure to post about it for all to know.
So there’s my take on Drones and Farming. What I’m not sure of is if there’s a market for a lone drone pilot to run from farm to farm or if it’s more likely that the farmers themselves will operate the craft. I suspect it will be a mix or maybe the lone drone pilot at first with the farmers quickly following suit. I don’t have an agriculture drone of my own but I’d love to offer such services. I think it would be fun and profitable.
What do you think? Did I miss anything you think should be included in this post? Am I out of touch for thinking some of these uses are surprising? Did I get something wrong in my assessment? And, of course, are you aware of any new drone/farming technology that’s out or coming out that I’d love to know about? Please let me know by commenting below. I read and respond to each and every comment.