4 reasons to use drones in agriculture
UAS save time, costs, and they can even save lives
Modern technology has found its way into agriculture a long time ago. There are milking robots for cows, (semi-)autonomous tractors and combine harvesters and, of course, the controversial fertilizers from the laboratory. So, in addition to industry 4.0, we can also say that agriculture 4.0 has already begun.
For some time now, drones or as they are officially called UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) have been successfully used in agriculture. The spectrum of applications ranges from very large special drones that can distribute seeds, to drones that can fight parasites in maize in a nature-conserving way. Also, drones can be used to help protect the lives of fawns.
As an outsider, you might not think that agriculture is a modern industry, but now even orthophotos are being used to plant fields economically. And how did these orthophotos come about? Of course, by using a drone to take the pictures. Agriculture is by no means old-fashioned or reluctant to use technology; on the contrary, it has become a true high-tech sector in which a wide variety of new types of technology are being used to work as efficiently as possible.
Due to the endless possibilities of using drones in agriculture, in this article, we would like to present a small selection that does not cover the whole spectrum of possibilities.
1. Protecting the fields against agricultural pests
The larvae of the corn borer (Ostrinia nubilalis) are responsible for the destruction of about 4% of the annual corn harvest and are therefore the biggest pest in the corn harvest worldwide. The use of Trichogramma wasps is an environmentally friendly measure to control the corn borer. These Trichogramma wasps are placed in small capsules in the maize fields. The capsules should be deployed every 10 meters. If they are laid out by hand, this is a very time-consuming process. Using a drone for this task saves a lot of time. Here is a video of a drone being used for that.
Before lift-off, the pilot copies the flight plan to the drone, which has been previously created and approved by the flight authorities. This is a good example of how drone pilots can use MAP2FLY or companies can use HORIZON to plan flights with drones.
It is also possible for the drone to fly a route autonomously so that the pilot can keep watch on the wasp capsules being dropped correctly and in a case of emergency he can intervene and take control of the drone as well. The speed advantage of the drone over a human being (6 km/h vs. 36 km/h) alone shows how much time can be saved. The previously prepared flight plan also ensures that the entire field is covered right from the start. However, drones can do much more in modern field cultivation.
2. Condition monitoring of cultivated areas by using aerial photos
In the past, aerial photography was expensive. Airplanes or helicopters were used, which made the whole thing too expensive for recurrent use. In addition, digital camera technology was less advanced in terms of resolution and level of detail.
Nowadays, the resolution of cameras is so high that the fields can be analyzed in high detail and, for example, damage caused by dryness can be found based on the images taken. This allows targeted irrigation to take place in order to save these areas from drying out completely. At the same time, other areas are protected from being over-watered. This is just one of the innumerable advantages of precision agriculture, where state-of-the-art technology is used to make field management more efficient. It can also reduce or eliminate the use of herbicides and other fertilizers. Modern technology has unfortunately made negative headlines about agriculture on several occasions in the past, for example through artificially genetically modified maize or soya. The milking robot used in cattle breeding is also a controversial issue. Drones, which are used to distribute pesticides, also line up here.
However, drones mainly serve to increase the efficiency of agricultural land mostly in an environmentally friendly way.
3. Drones save fawns
Another positive example of the use of drones in agriculture is the protection of fawns. Deer fawns are temporarily left alone by their mothers under the protection of the high grass. When the farmers mow their fields in spring, the misfortune often happens: the fawn is killed by the combine harvester because it has no flee instinct. Farmers have not yet had a proper way to avoid this since walking their fields to check for fawns takes up too much time. Since the fawns are hidden between high grass it is also not easy to spot them.
However, the use of a drone for this task can save the lives of many fawns.
Before they start mowing their fields, farmers can contact drone pilots by telephone, who then fly over the fields. In addition to an RGB camera, their drones are also equipped with a thermal imaging camera so that the fawns can be found very quickly. The fawns can then be brought to safety and the farmers can start their work without endangering the animals.
Numerous drone pilots volunteer their time to protect the animals and we applaud that!
4. Drones for spreading fertilizer
The German Rauch company is known to farmers as a manufacturer of fertilizer spreaders. At least as impressive as some tractors or combine harvesters is their Agronator drone. With a weight of 80 kg, a payload of 30 kg and a size of 4.6 m, it surpasses almost every other drone available. At the same time, it is the first fertilizer spreader drone in the world. Its use has several advantages. By creating the flight routes beforehand, the fertilizer can be distributed more precisely than with a conventional fertilizer spreader. Since the drone flies, it can operate completely independently of the ground conditions. It can also operate at a higher speed than a tractor, for example. Finally, the drone can autonomously fly the flight route and each mission can be digitally documented and evaluated. According to the manufacturer, the Agronator is also more efficient than other agricultural robots due to its maneuverability.
Flight planning and validation
Compared to urban areas, there are fewer no-fly zones in more rural regions. Since the flights over fields are commissioned directly by the farmer or are even carried out by him, there are no legal restrictions on banning flights over private land.
Still, there are some questions that must be answered before taking off:
- What happens if a motorway runs alongside the field to be flown on?
- What is the legal situation with fields that lie in approach lanes because there is a large city with a large airport nearby?
- Can you fly over the pasture of the adjacent farm with your drone?
- How close can the drone be to the adjacent power pylons?
To answer these questions, you just need to take a look at our project management software HORIZON.
Here, flight routes can be planned with just a few clicks and you get a direct overview of all rules and laws that apply on the respective route. *
It should also be noted that for a large drone, such as the Agronator drone with its maximum take-off weight of 110 kg, a flight permit is required for each flight. In Germany, this applies to all drones with a take-off weight above 5 kg.
If you want to register a flight yourself, you must pay attention to numerous things. The disregard of a rule or a law during flight planning can lead to the fact that no flight permission is given. Therefore, we would like to facilitate this process in order to simplify the use of drones not only in agriculture but in all industrial applications.
The FlyNex Team