Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), sometimes referred to as “drones,” have found a use beyond the military. According to Rory Paul, founder and CEO of Volt Aerial Robotics, a UAV company, the sky’s the limit for what these devices offer farmers.
“UAVs will be very useful, efficient and economical in scouting crops for diseases and other pests and also for surveying crop conditions and predicting yields,” says Paul. “UAVs have low costs for operation and provide extremely high-resolution images.”
Traditionally, agricultural imagery has been acquired by satellites or manned aircraft. While both can cover large areas, they can be costly for farmers, have extended waiting periods to get the images back and can’t provide the high-resolution images provided by UAVs.
In a recent Focus on Soybean webcast, Paul discussed four ways UAVs can be used for agricultural purposes:
- Mapping — This is potentially the most important application as UAVs have the ability to gather hundreds of images of a field, which can be processed and turned into a high resolution map. This allows a farmer to see everything going on in the interior of his fields.
- Crop scouting — UAVs are portable, making them an easy addition to a farm. Farmers can send a UAV over a field and see on a monitor the images the UAV is taking in real time. This helps cut down on the time spent scouting crops and gives a farmer a much bigger overview of what’s happening in his or her field.
- Population counting — UAVs can be pre-programed to fly to a specific GPS coordinate in a field and take an image of that exact area. Then a farmer can count the number of emerged plants and manage based on that information.
- Prospect of crop dusting, aerial applications — This has not been done in the United States yet but has the potential to be very beneficial. In the future it may be possible for these UAVs to be operated by farmers, reducing production costs dramatically. However this potential application faces numerous technical and policy hurdles before it will become a reality.
The soy checkoff supports the “Focus on Soybean” webcasts through a partnership with the Plant Management Network. All U.S. soybean farmers have access to this full presentation for free until April 30, while a shorter executive-summary version of the presentation is always available.