Precision agriculture or site specific crop management (SSCM) is a field focussed on optimizing returns on inputs and preserving resources; at the same time reducing run off and potential environmental damage. Three areas improved through precision agriculture are crop science (data collection and application), environmental footprint and economic standpoint.
UAVS are a solution to data collection problems facing modern farmers. They offer tools through analysing crop needs without manual measurements and calculations. Traditional methods of data collection are through satellites, manned planes and walking the field. Satellite imagery can be unreliable, unclear or not of the high quality needed to acquire actionable data. On cloudy days data may be completely unusable or unobtainable. Furthermore the project may require more specific filters and analysis tools. The current solution to this is to employ [Near-InfraRed (NIR), Red/Green/Blue (RGB), Red-edge (RE), Multispectral and Thermal Infrared] technology through photogrammetry and compiled into ortho-mosaic images on a manned plane. This is a very costly endeavour and isn’t available to the lay man. Walking the field is the most common, accessible method employed by farmers to gain information. Labour intensive, costly, potentially hazardous to workers-health and at times unmanageable; t his method is fast becoming outdated.
Photogrammetry records useful data concerning estimation of crop yield, terrain features, topography, organic matter content, moisture levels and nitrogen levels as well as locating invasive species and diseased areas, detecting weather related damage, performing biomass calculations, monitoring livestock feedlots and pastures as well as surveying irrigation and other structural systems. This manifests through geo-referenced ortho-photos; the output of which reads directly into Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). This data is essential when moving agriculture out of the previous century and gaining strategic advantages over competitors.
High tech precision agriculture is becoming a differentiating quality in a commodity field. By reducing the amounts of pesticides, fungicides etc applied to the plants “greener” yields are produced which changes the market value and demand for these crops and repositions the product as providing a higher quality and a more socially conscious set of values. Produce thus gains value through the processes through which it was farmed.
Complying with environmental standards, beyond the legalities is a growing concern among many farmers. The economic implications of over spraying and excess runoff aside, UAVs offer solutions by efficiently, quickly and safely dusting crops and not exposing workers to chemicals. By correctly assessing and addressing specific needs of crops the farmer can reduce run off into nearby water supplies. Not only does this help the environment, it gives the product a strategic advantage over other traditionally farmed produce by addressing the increasingly health conscious markets concerns over pesticides and chemicals and effectively positioning the grower as a supplier of premium “green” products.
UAV technology is offering agriculturalists a chance to thrive, not only through savings on product used but also in terms of market positioning and niche farming.
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