Drones for Agriculture - DSLRPros Official Blog

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Agriculture drones provide farmers and agronomists with actionable data regarding crop health.  Drones equipped with spraying equipment and near-infrared sensors will be the future of farming. Drones provide farmers with a greater visual inspection tool to monitor changes in crop health and livestock management. Interested in agriculture drones for scouting or mapping? Speak to our agriculture drone consultant. 

Wavelengths of light and typical plant reflectance

Depicting the end of the visible spectrum of light (red) and the start of the infrared spectrum of light (gray), it is between these wavelengths of light that plants use for photosynthesis.

Crop Inspection & Analysis 
The days of walking through fields to inspect crop yields are almost over. With the ability to have a live feed of what the drone’s camera is seeing, a single operator is able to cover much more ground in much less time. With a greater visual overview farmers are able to have a greater perspective of the crop fields they are inspecting, thus leading to more efficient farming.  This is largely impacted by new imaging technologies.

Imaging Technologies
The drone industry has taken visual inspection to the next level with the adaptation of near-infrared (NIR) sensors and multi-spectral sensors (RGB, RedEdge, & NIR) mounted on drones.

NIR sensors detect the spectrum of light that plants use to absorb light for photosynthesis. With multi-spectral sensors, the operator is able to gather even more detailed information on plant health. From this, using the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) ran through software, one is able to understand plant health based on the amount of light that is being reflected from the plants. Software analysis can be used to change values in order to reflect the specific crop type and even in which stage of life a specific crop is in.

Phantom 4 with a Sentera NDVI camera

What is NDVI?
NDVI is a ratio of the amount of light energy absorbed and reflected by plants, this measures plant health. Calculated by: (NIR – RED ) / (NIR + RED). In general, NDVI values range from -1.0 to 1.0, with negative values indicating objects such as water, positive values near zero indicating bare soil, and higher positive values of NDVI ranging from sparse vegetation (0.1 – 0.5) to dense vegetation (0.6 and above). As a result, this technology serves as a warning tool for problem areas facing complications with fertilizer, irrigation, disease, or pests.

Crop Field Mapping
With the data gathered from the NDVI sensors (which includes GPS coordinates for each frame), one is able to make a comprehensive map of the crop field area. This allows farmers to optimize where crops are being planted to maximize land usage and crop variability. Better mapping also increases water efficiency and fertilizer usage with better insights into the ideal place for crops.

Crop Spraying
To maintain crop yields plants require the proper fertilization and pesticide application. Manually driving a vehicle through the fields to spray or crop dusting by manned airplane to spray are methods of the past. Agricultural drones have the ability to carry large amounts of liquid as their payload and can be operated more safely at a fraction of the cost compared to crop dusters, and more efficiently than manually spraying from a vehicle. DJI crop spraying drones such as the DJI Agras MG-1 are not commonplace but have recently become available in the United States, and other heavy lift drones such as the DJI Matrice 600 can be equipped to fulfill this job. 

Livestock Monitoring
Drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras have the ability to monitor livestock in the air via a single operator. The live feed from the cameras can be transmitted via HDMI cable onto a larger screen allowing multiple people to view at a given time. Even inexpensive thermal cameras such as the Flir Duo allow the user to easily see livestock and potential predators approaching. Day or night adjustments are able to be made in settings to easily identify the difference between hot or cold ground and livestock. Even just the ability to remotely monitor even the hardest to reach pastures will give farmers the peace of mind they deserve. Having the ability to monitor livestock remotely has never been easier.

Mavic Pro with Sentera NDVI kit

To sum it up:
With the ability to attach NDVI light sensors on even small drones such as the DJI Mavic, the cost is extremely low to gather valuable information that is not visible to the naked eye. Drones provide greater resolution than satellites or airplanes as they have the ability to be flown lower and more precisely. Another benefit of drones is greater scanning frequency due to easy portability and cost. Software such as Sentera’s “AGVault” allows users to select a determined GPS area and the drone will fly and map the selected area without the need for an operator. In addition to that, drones allow easy monitoring of livestock remotely to identify any issues in the pastures. Drones truly give the people who feed us the tools necessary to do their job more efficiently and at a lower cost.






Want to learn more about NDVI? Check out our NDVI Webinar!


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