The 10,000-year history of agriculture, which first began with the simple act of gently moving aside some soil and dropping in a seed, is being reshaped by a new kind of technology. Today, farmers are using drones to capture a bird’s eye view of crops and digitize farming processes.
“Drones are giving us real-time situational awareness, getting information that you need when you need it,” said Brian David Johnson, a futurist and writer for Successful Farming Magazine.
Unmanned aerial vehicles collect massive quantities of data with greater speed and efficiency than ever. When connected to cloud-computing, these data technologies inform farmer’s decision-making on everything from hydration to pest control, planting and harvesting times.
Drones can help monitor everything from crops to nurseries and cattle. Aerial imagery can be used for natural disaster insurance. With drones, research and development groups can bring new seeds and chemicals more swiftly to market, according to Johnson.
“Drones give you a real-time understanding of your crops and all the different knobs that we have to turn in agriculture to increase yield, safety and productivity,” said Johnson.
Farm and ranch acreage can often number in the thousands and these flying computers can whizz over sprawling fields much faster than a farmer can walk or drive to view crop conditions. Drones also carry a variety of cameras that provide higher spatial and spectral resolution than satellite imagery, according to Dr. Bobby Vick, Director of Agriculture at PrecisionHawk, a company providing drone services to the industry.
“In a matter of minutes, a drone can cover a property with much more granularity than with boots on the ground,” Vick said. “There’s perspective from the eye in the sky that can’t be matched at fields edge. Ultimately, it’s about being able to make more informed and precise decisions.”
Drones are less expensive than renting a helicopter or airplane, giving farmers the opportunity to collect data more frequently.
“You start to get data constantly whereas previously (with a plane) you might get one flyover a year, if you’re lucky,” said Johnson, who is also a professor of practice at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society.