Initially developed by the U.S. military, drones are becoming increasingly mainstream: more than two million were sold last year alone for recreational purposes in the U.S. When it comes to commercial applications, these span remote inspection, security services, special delivery, insurance claims and even golfing. But drones also represent the latest trend in the smart farming revolution. In specific, besides their use in cattle herding, drones, formally termed remotely piloted aerial systems (RPAS), come in handy in arable farming.
One of the most frequent applications of drones in arable farming involves the generation of high-resolution field imagery, where drones provide an alternative to costlier images from satellite platforms. Remote-sensing methods based on RPAs fitted with thermal cameras also deliver high-resolution images on field and tree water stress levels, helping farmers determine more precise management zones for precision irrigation. In addition, coupled with fast internet access, farmers also use drones to generate real-time information on crop health, thus allowing to accelerate pest and disease detection.
As a next step, researchers are now investigating the use of drones to perform farming tasks beyond observation duties. Amongst others, this involves the spraying of pesticides, herbicides and liquid fertilizers, which drones perform more precisely than tractors fitted with spraying booms. In addition, substituting heavy machinery spraying with drone crop-dusting limits soil compaction and crop damage.
Click here for an overview of different applications of drones in arable farming.