Precision agriculture is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter- and intra-field variability in crops. The goal of precision agriculture is to more efficiently apply a farm’s limited resources to gain maximum yield. A primary method for doing that is to minimise variability of crop health within and across fields. Due to its nature, precision agriculture requires a lot of data to work.
The three main types of data include:
- Geo-tagged Images: visible and multi-spectral aerial images taken of fields, over time
- Equipment Performance: real time feedback and logs provided by sensor-equipped manned and unmanned equipment such as seeders, spreaders, tractors and combines
- Management Data: crop yield and other data provided by farm operators
Where do UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) fit in Precision Agriculture?
UAVs or drones are really just a new, high-precision way to obtain geo-tagged images from the air. Compared with other aerial survey methods, drones generate more precise and more frequent data about the condition of crops. This data is used in many ways to improve the performance of a farm’s operation.
Drones are used to gather a variety of image-based data about the condition of crops, fields and livestock – including:
- Plant height
- Plant count
- Plant health
- Presence of nutrients
- Presence of disease
- Presence of weeds
- Relative biomass estimates
- 3D / Volumetric data (piles, patches, holes and hills)
For livestock operations, drones can be used to monitor the location, status and movement of animals over time with more frequency and at a lower cost than other means.
Drone data is used to do farming jobs more effectively and efficiently, including:
- Crop Scouting – replace men with drones
- Crop Health Monitoring – biggest ROI, by far
- Field Surveying / Scouting (before planting)
- Nitrogen Recommendation
- Yield Monitoring
- Plant Stress Monitoring
- Drought Assessment
- Leaf Area Indexing
- Tree Classification and more
To take quick action, orthomosaic images generated by drones can be fed into an agricultural programs to create prescription maps. Prescription maps inform the farm operator where and what specific actions are needed, such as increasing or decreasing nitrogen spread on trouble spots. Prescription maps can be transferred directly into a precision applicator (sprayer) like a John Deere® or Case IH®.
Because of the amount of data required, many precision farmers use agronomy management systems to collect and integrate all of the data flowing to / from their sensor-equipped tractors, combines, drones and other equipment found on farms today. Drones interact with agronomy management systems by feeding them with rich, detailed and timely geo-tagged images. Using this data, farmers can react more quickly and more precisely than they can using other aerial imaging methods.