Drones for Precision Agriculture Will Empower Every Farmer

When we use drones for precision agriculture, we get a macro-perspective of what happens in the most important pieces of land in the civilized world- farms. India is especially known for being an agricultural economy, and more recently, an emerging digital economy. In the meanwhile, the concern about climate change and the resultant food crisis is on the rise. So, the right question to ask at this moment is – what technology can we use to prevent an agricultural crisis? ideaForge’s specialized drones for precision agriculture have some answers.

Thittai is an agricultural village that is about 30 minutes away from the Tanjavur Kaveri delta. The 70-year-old farmer, Mr. Soundar contemplates the benefits of drones in agriculture efficiency for his 50-acre land. In the 1970’s, Soundar left his career in engineering to take care of his father’s paddy and sugarcane fields. Over the years, he has dealt with problems on all levels. However, one thing that is still unresolved is a reliable way to tell if his crop is healthy and if the quality is consistent across the field.

Wading through a paddy field means being knee-deep in water. Sometimes, it’s too late before one can tell if the crop has been affected by pests, or if something is spreading below the visible surface. These checks need to be done manually and is often not thorough. With a “prevention is better than cure” approach, the farmer could treat the entire crop with pesticide, but it will unnecessarily adulterate fertile soil with chemicals.

This is how the most important sector of the Indian economy functions. It accounts for 18% of the country’s GDP and employs 50% of the workforce despite these conditions. There have been several technological advancements over a period of time- tractors replaced cattle, GMO seeds came around to improve yield, the Indian government has put out mobile phone apps where farmers can learn how to manage their business better and also subscribe to weather forecasts. But the question still remains- what can make a real difference on the ground?

By 2050, global population is estimated to be at 9 billion. Subsequently, food consumption will go up by 70% more than what it is currently. In the near future, larger farms will be managed by machines. With fewer people working across bigger areas of land, there are several drone uses in farming that need to be utilized to its fullest. A large obstacle is that crops cannot be manually monitored with fewer people, especially given that weather conditions are progressively deteriorating due to climate change. UAVs can then be critical in variable rates estimation to assess the soil quality, moisture and nitrogen levels. This ongoing real-time data can accurately pinpoint the exact location and remedy that the crops require. Timely and accurate interventions contribute to crop yield optimization.

Perhaps the right answer to this is what we can put in the sky.

ideaForge has three different UAVs that can enable farmers to have complete control over their agricultural land and farming techniques. Deploying the Q Series, Netra V Series or NINJA UAVs can unburden farmers from a lot of actions that they need to take just to yield a productive output.

Firstly, with a high-resolution camera scouting aerially, the farmer has access to a wide range of data. Based on the reflection of colours from the crop canopy, their stage of growth, harvest readiness or even pest infestations can be identified. Crop counting becomes infinitely easier since it no longer has to be done manually.

ideaForge drones can use their imaging technology for multispectral analysis. Based on the reflection of light off the crop, the image is created across 5 spectral bandwidths. This provides more data to the farmer than the naked eye can. For instance, multispectral analysis can provide information about Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)- in other words, the chlorophyll content of the vegetation can be measured. This means, if there are areas on the farm that have a different condition, the variable growth can be identified. Whatever is causing the stress can be addressed swiftly and corrective measures can be taken.

Other aspects of crop health can be objectively measured by correlating soil fertility levels, nitrogen levels, the origin or spreading of pests with multispectral indices.

This leaves the farmer with more man-hours on hand and a more accurate estimate of what kind of harvest he will have. Crop yield aside, drones can even be used as water sprinklers and to spray pesticides. All this happens in a fraction of the time it takes for farm workers to complete the job.

In a trial run, ideaForge’s UAVs could provide a whole bank information from the field about plot size, and plant health to optimize the use of inputs like seed, fertilizers, water to react more quickly to threats (weeds, pests, fungi to save time crop scouting), improve variable-rate prescriptions in real-time and to estimate yield from a field.

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