Will Drones Change the Future of the Agricultural Industry?

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In order to keep pace with changing times, industries must continuously evolve, or risk being overshadowed by sectors that are more innovative. Such a phenomenon is occurring in the agriculture industry, as forward-thinking individuals are looking at ways to use drones to promote more productive crop growth. You’re probably already aware of how drones have been used to capture cool aerial photos and are even being tested by Amazon to speedily deliver packages to customers’ doorsteps, but let’s take a look at how drones are benefiting modern agriculture in inspiring and effective ways.

Aerial Agriculture LLC, a tech startup founded by undergraduate students in Purdue's College of Engineering, developed and piloted agricultural drones that can capture specialized images of entire crop fields. The drones captured images can be stitched together into maps, which are direct representations of the crops' health. The technology ultimately reduces input costs and increases farmers' yields. (Aerial Agriculture image)

Aerial Agriculture LLC, a tech startup founded by undergraduate students in Purdue’s College of Engineering, developed and piloted agricultural drones that can capture specialized images of entire crop fields. The drones captured images can be stitched together into maps, which are direct representations of the crops’ health. The technology ultimately reduces input costs and increases farmers’ yields. (Aerial Agriculture image)

Purdue University Students Launch Drone-Based Agricultural Startup 

A group of bright students from Purdue University believe drones are the key to cutting costs in the agricultural industry while simultaneously increasing farmers’ yields. They’re behind an aptly named startup company called Aerial Agriculture, LLC. With the help of specialized cameras, drones get images that are eventually used to create vegetation indices. It’s possible to take multispectral pictures of entire fields, so specialists can then gauge crop health and respond accordingly.

The images taken by the drones are so precise they allow viewers to see areas of fields that need more attention. After viewing the respective pictures, farmers could determine where more fertilizer is needed and take care of deficits right away before it’s too late.

The team behind Aerial Agriculture hopes to represent the only agricultural drone company in Indiana and eventually expand to other states that have even longer growing seasons. Although some people might argue that’s a lofty goal, the entrepreneurs are already off to a successful start. They’ve secured various source of funding, including through winning awards at entrepreneurial competitions.

Indian Organizations Are Partnering Up for Experiments

Recently, it was announced that the Indian Agricultural Research Institute and Indian Council of Agricultural Research are set to team up for a research project that focuses on using drones to keep tabs on soil and crop health. Initially, the drone system will use hyperspectral remote sensing technology, but the methods could reportedly be integrated with satellites for use in large-scale applications if these preliminary experiments go well.

Besides assessing the current health of the crops and soil, experts say drones could be used to survey the damage done after natural disasters, or even to assist in reaching settlements after crop insurance claims. For now, plans are set to incorporate drones on a local and regional scale, and potentially ramp up operations later.

Supporters of this kind of drone technology say it allows farmers to determine how much they might profit or experience losses during given growing seasons. That’s because the data that’s captured and transmitted allows them to have a familiarity with their yields before the crops even come out of the ground.

Representatives from this drone project say there are numerous private firms that are similarly looking at ways to use drones to assist with farming. However, the technology used for this particular project will be capable of taking comparatively larger pictures, and doing so in a shorter time span.

This kind of technology would arguably be familiar to agricultural technology expert Jai Shroff. As the global CEO of UPL, Shroff leads a company that regularly deals with issues like plant nutrition, food preservation, and crop protection. It currently operates in over 120 countries but is headquartered in India.

Crop Management Should Improve Too

When farmers aren’t able to adequately keep track of how their crops are doing, the results can be catastrophic and extremely costly. Crop monitoring is a necessary and precise task that’s often made more difficult due to inclement weather. However, analysts are hopeful that drones could make the process much simpler.

Before drones began being considered as a crop monitoring solution, satellite images offered the most robust technology available. However, farmers could only request images to be taken once per day, and those pictures had to be ordered ahead of time. Furthermore, poor weather conditions could have a severely adverse impact on the quality of the satellite images. Despite these shortcomings, satellite imagery was a very expensive way to monitor crops.

When drones are used, they’re able to take animated, real-time footage that shows how crops are developing. When deficiencies are uncovered, farmers can take action more quickly, and then get more drone footage after the fact to ensure all issues were appropriately solved.

There are even some drones equipped with special lights that can detect infections within crop fields. The data received allows farmers to promptly apply treatments to the affected crops and take preventative measures as needed to protect surrounding plants. Also, in the event of crop failure due to fungal or bacterial issues, drone footage could allow farmers to more adequately showcase the extent of a loss for insurance claim purposes.

As these examples suggest, drones aren’t entirely new, but the capabilities they have are obviously opening up fresh possibilities in the agricultural industry. Because it is so integral to the world’s food supply, the agriculture sector is one that must regularly harness emerging advancements to remain sustainable.