Farming has long been associated with machines like tractors, plows, cultivators and combines – but high-tech drones which fly over fields may soon become as indispensable to modern agriculture as traditional farm implements.
It starts with something called “precision agriculture.” This a farm management concept that relies heavily on observing crops, fields and soil from the air – from space-based satellite imaging — but now also increasingly using data gathered from low-flying drones.
Aerial sensing with drones can provide farmers with an amazing amount of information about what is going on with the make-up and content of soil, but also the progress of crops as they grow week-to-week.
Japan has already been using drones for years to manage rice crops. Farmers in the United States are just beginning to catch on to this way of gathering information about land and crops. The payoff can be truly astounding.
For example, the fertility of a given field of soil can vary widely in terms of where fertilizer is concentrated as opposed to where soil is depleted. Using remote sensing with enhanced drone imaging techniques, farmers can now stop wasting fertilizer application where it is not needed and concentrate on those areas that do.
The standard practice for farmers has been to simply spread the same amount of fertilizer across an entire field. But now a view from above can easily show how inefficient and wasteful the old “blind” way applying fertilizer has been.
That’s just one example of how sending drones out over fields can “harvest” vast amount of knowledge that enable operators to work more efficiently.
Other uses of drones include monitoring fields for areas of weed proliferation throughout the growing season. This allows pinpoint methods to attack weeds only where they are a problem. Another use of drone-enabled sensing it to keep track of insect predation and plants diseases, such as wheat scab or various other fungal infections common to crops.
Farming has always been a labor of the land — but now it’s taken to the air, as well.