~A guest blog post by ADGIS student Jess Davis

A growing market for drones is in the agriculture business. It has never been easy for farmers to obtain real-time data but with the help of drones they will be able to monitor their crops better than ever before.

Drones can be used in agriculture to tackle a variety of data gathering such as: plant counting, plant height, crop health indexes, weed detection, canopy cover, season monitoring and terrain mapping

AgriculturePreviously, a farmer would have to walk the entire expand of his crops to gather any of the previously mentioned data, which could take anywhere from hours to months to accomplish. When a drone flies over a field, not only is it taking images of the fields but it is also actively scanning for problems in the field. They are at the point now where some types of drones do not need a controller on the ground; they are just set to scan over a certain area and they go out and collect all of the data and come back.

Plant counting can be accomplished and give the user information on plant size by individual plant, row, plot or field. It can also determine plant uniformity and yields at an early stage. Canopy cover and season monitoring can give the user a picture of the changes and patterns in stages of growth of their fields.

The most important data that can be extracted from a drone lies in the health of their crops.

They can identify crop stress, track rogue plants and detect early infestations which can be correlated to weather patterns and changing environmental conditions. They can examine anomalies in the field linked to weeds, and companies like Precision Hawk are working on cameras which can ‘see’ to a plant’s sub-cellular level.  That will allow farmers to detect disease in a plant before it shows any visible sign. 

Drones are quickly becoming a popular tool for large scale agricultural businesses and the initial cost is well worth the data that can be used to fine tune production. The data received from these drones is compatible with a variety of mapping software such as: AutoCAD, ArcGIS, Google Earth, erdas IMAGINE, Quantum GIS, and Global Mapper. No matter the level of geospatial knowledge, data obtained from a drone can be highly useful in crop management. Some interesting Canadian manufacturers of drones are Precision Hawk out of Ontario and Sky Squirrel Technologies from Nova Scotia.