Different applications of drones in agriculture are possible. (1) They can be used for soil and field analysis. Drones can produce 3D maps (quickly and cheaply) which then can be used for seed planting. (2) Another possible application is crop monitoring. Drones can provide insight into crop development and highlight inefficient or ineffective practices. (3) Drones can also be used to generate multispectral images of crops which are then analysed to track changes in health and maturity. Assessing the health of crops can help to early detect disease and allow quick actions. (4) Drones equipped with special monitoring equipment can be used to identify parts of a field experiencing “hydric stress” (inadequate of water of sufficient quality). They use infrared and thermal sensors to provide snapshots of entire fields, allowing targeted diagnosis of areas receiving too much or too little water. (5) These drones also allow for the vegetation index (density and health of the crop) to be calculated while the crop is growing, enabling and informing better crop management. (6) Some drones can be well-suited for crop spraying, as they can scan the ground and apply liquids quickly and with great precision. Some experts argue that crop spraying by drones may be up to five times faster than with regular machinery. This spraying can be with water or fertilizer.
The images below show potential drone images. The first image shows the need for N in the different areas. The second image is showing hotspots where not enough water is available; With these images, it is possible to ad fertilizer only on the part of the field that needs it, and water only where necessary; By doing this, over fertilization/watering is avoided which will lead to less nutrients leaching to nearby watercourse.
- Cost reduction for the farmer
- Available 24/7
- It can reach areas that are difficult to reach with a tractor
- Drones can map area and follow pre installed route (no labor needed during flight)
- Some drones can take samples
- More accurate fertilization, avoiding over-fertilization
- Farmers need to use the computer and best have a smartphone for farm business. This might give a problem in older segments of the population, where farmers and other rural dwellers are well represented.
- Manufacturer of drones will need to prove they can substantially and reliably improve upon existing processes before they are widely adopted.
- The technology is not mature enough to act as a replacement for existing methods, however, technology is changing rapidly.
- With over 56% of the workforce (in agriculture) aged over 55 in Europe , digital skills are often lacking, meaning that additional investment in training is often required.
- Socio- economic resilience: Despite their savings-potential, drones still require substantial capital investment and technical expertise to be acquired and properly utilized, making them difficult to justify for many small to-medium sized farms that are less likely to benefit from economies of scale.
- Animal health and welfare: Technology is also available to analyse animal health and welfare.
- Production efficiency and meat quality: An increased production of the forage is possible. Direct relation to production efficiency of the animal is not described.
- Environmental sustainability: By using for example drones, it is possible to accurately see where problems are on the field, regarding water or growth. With the data it is possible to fertilize more accurately and decreasing the risk of nutrient losses.