Age-old farming traditions have been changed in ways our forebears could barely imagine. Drones in agriculture are now used for 3 main kinds of tasks: crop management, soil and field analysis, and livestock monitoring. Each has its own requirements, and range of UAVs and accompanying software that would be most suited for it. We will carry out a series looking at each of them to help farmers make more informed decisions for their processes. 

For crop management in particular, it comes down to:

- Health Assessment: Drones with multispectral or thermal sensors can identify disease, pest infestation, and water stress in crops at early stages. By detecting these issues early, you can take action to mitigate problems before they snowball into something much worse.
- Yield Prediction: High-resolution images allow farmers to track crop growth and predict yield with high accuracy. This data helps in planning the harvest and logistics for market supply.
- Spraying and Spot Treatment: Here the focus is on applying pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers to crops, reducing the amount of chemicals used, and minimizing environmental impact. Ensuring that only affected areas are treated also saves resources and reduces costs.

Crop monitoring drones specialize in two of these: health assessment and yield prediction. Here are the top drones for these tasks, and how they help farmers:

Review Of Leading Crop Monitoring Drones

1. DJI Mavic 3M

It made its debut on November 23, 2022 as part of the Mavic 3 series, which includes various versions tailored for different applications. The Mavic 3M stands out with its imaging capabilities, making it an invaluable tool for farmers and organizations involved in precision agriculture. 

It combines a high-resolution RGB camera with a multispectral camera system, enabling detailed crop growth monitoring and aerial surveys without the need for ground control points​​​​​​.

Key Features

• Multispectral + RGB Imaging System: Equipped with a 20MP, 4/3 CMOS RGB camera and four 5MP multispectral sensors (Green, Red, Red Edge, Near-infrared), providing detailed insights into crop health and environmental conditions​​​​.

• RTK Module for Centimeter-Level Positioning: Enables high-precision surveying without having to set up ground control points. 

• Long Battery Life: Up to 43 minutes, enabling the mapping of large areas up to 200 hectares in a single flight​​.

• Advanced Data Transmission: Features O3 video transmission with a range of up to 15 km and supports integration with third-party cloud platforms via DJI Cloud API​​.

• Omnidirectional Obstacle Sensing: Enhances safety by detecting obstacles in all directions​​.

• Integration with Agriculture Software: Compatible with DJI Terra and DJI SmartFarm Platform for advanced data analysis and crop management​​.

• Open Ecosystem for Developers: Offers integration capabilities with third-party platforms through DJI Cloud API and supports Mobile SDK 5 (MSDK5)​

• Compact and Portable: Weighing just 951 grams, its foldable design enhances portability​​​​.

The DJI Mavic 3M is engineered to meet the demands of modern agriculture, offering a versatile solution for crop monitoring and management. Its lightweight and foldable design, coupled with a long battery life, make it exceptionally user-friendly for farmers and agronomists, allowing for easy transportation and extensive surveying of large agricultural lands. The integration of both RGB and multispectral imaging systems enables the Mavic 3M to capture a wide range of data crucial for effective crop monitoring. This data includes detailed visual information and multispectral indices that are critical for assessing plant health, moisture content, and nutrient levels.

The RTK module enhances the Mavic 3M's utility by providing centimeter-level positioning accuracy. This feature is crucial for precision agriculture applications, where detailed and accurate mapping is essential for tasks such as crop planting patterns, irrigation management, and targeted fertilization. The drone's ability to perform surveys without requiring ground control points simplifies the data collection process, making it more efficient and cost-effective.

Learn how you can use it with Pix4D here:

Safety features, such as omnidirectional obstacle sensing and the O3 transmission system, ensure reliable operation in diverse agricultural environments. These features minimize the risk of collisions and ensure stable communication over long distances, enhancing the drone's usability in large and complex farm landscapes.

The Mavic 3M's compatibility with DJI Terra and the DJI SmartFarm Platform further extends its capabilities, allowing for advanced data processing and analysis. This integration facilitates the generation of actionable insights, such as NDVI maps, which are vital for making informed decisions on crop management, irrigation, and fertilization strategies. For instance, you can reconstruct high-resolution orchard maps, automatically identify the number of trees – and easily distinguish them from other obstacles, and also three-dimensional operation routes for agricultural drones to use tasks like spraying. 

Extra Tip: Work With DJI SmartFarm

Before we continue, let’s briefly look at DJI SmartFarm and how it helps farming activities. It is especially tailored for the Agras line of agricultural drones, wand as globally released on June 26, 2022. It includes:

• HD Farmland Imaging: DJI SmartFarm drones can instantly generate high-definition images of farmland and orchards, providing clear visuals that enable detailed analysis of crop growth and health. This capability facilitates the digital management of agricultural information, aiding in the planning, archiving, and operational guidance of various agricultural tasks​​.

• Intelligent Field Scouting and Analysis: Utilizing aerial survey drones equipped with AI algorithms, DJI SmartFarm efficiently conducts field scouting throughout the plant lifecycle. This allows for automated monitoring and analysis of farmland and crops, significantly enhancing the decision-making process. The platform is capable of identifying issues such as terrain height differences, crop diseases, insect pests, and growth disparities, offering targeted solutions to improve agricultural outcomes​​.

• Variable-Rate Operations Guidance: By detecting growth differences using the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), the platform can generate prescription maps for variable-rate fertilization, weeding, and pest control. These maps can then be synchronized with agricultural drones to carry out precise operations, optimizing the use of pesticides and fertilizers and leading to more sustainable farming practices​​.

• 3D Route Planning for Complex Terrains: For orchards located on hillsides or areas with complex terrains, DJI SmartFarm can generate 3D maps and plan optimal routes that include height information. This ensures efficient and safe operations by agricultural drones, maximizing coverage and minimizing risks​​.

• End-to-End Service Support Through the DJI SmartFarm App: The app provides comprehensive service support for spraying and spreading operations, including data display, device management, field sharing, tutorials, team collaboration, and measurement tools. It enables clear visualization of data on Agras drones and simplifies the control and management of devices, enhancing overall operational efficiency​​.

• Solution-Oriented Approach for Different Crops: DJI Agriculture offers tailored solutions for both grain and commercial crops, employing digital, informative, intelligent, and precise management strategies. These solutions aim to reduce operational costs, improve crop quality, and increase yield rates by facilitating more convenient and efficient field management​​.

Download DJI SmartFarm for Mavic 3M and other Agras drones here: Android; iOS

2. eBee AG

Developed by AgEagle Aerial Systems Inc., this is a fixed-wing drone that's an efficient solution for mapping and monitoring crops. This drone stands out for its combination of a dual RGB and multispectral camera. With a flight time of up to 55 minutes and the capability to cover 160 hectares (395 acres) in a single flight, the eBee AG is a reliable and affordable tool for farmers, agronomists, and service providers. Its integration with various farm management information software (FMIS) streamlines operational workflows, enhancing decision-making processes for healthier, higher-yielding crops and improved profit margins​​​​​​.

Key Features

• Dual RGB and Multispectral Camera: The Duet M camera captures both RGB and multispectral data, enabling detailed analysis of crop health through NDRE, NDVI, and digital surface models (DSM)​​.

• High Precision with Optional RTK: Achieves a ground sampling distance (GSD) of 2.5 cm / 1 inch, enhancing field health monitoring and early disease detection​​.

• Extended Flight Time: Capable of flying up to 45 minutes with the standard battery and up to 55 minutes with an endurance battery, allowing coverage of up to 160 hectares / 395 acres in a single flight​​​​.

• Lightweight and Regulatory Compliance: With a takeoff weight of 1.6 kg / 3.6 lbs, it complies with more regulatory frameworks worldwide and supports BVLOS flights and operations over people​​.

• Shock Absorbent Design: Features a rugged underbody made from reinforced polypropylene woven mesh for durability and protection during belly landings in harsh terrain​​.

• Compatibility with FMIS: Data outputs integrate seamlessly with major FMIS and precision agriculture equipment, enhancing farming workflows​​.

The extended flight time and large coverage area of the eBee AG make it an efficient tool for mapping large farms, saving time and resources compared to traditional scouting methods. Its lightweight design not only ensures compliance with various regulatory frameworks but also enhances its operational flexibility, including the ability to perform BVLOS flights.

Additionally, the eBee AG's compatibility with FMIS allows for the integration of aerial data into broader farm management systems, streamlining workflows and improving operational efficiency. The rugged and shock-absorbent design gives you reliability and durability, even when operating in challenging environments.

3. DJI Matrice 350 RTK

The DJI Matrice 350 RTK, the latest flagship from DJI, introduces an all-new video transmission system, a more efficient battery system, comprehensive safety features, and robust payload and expansion capabilities. Released in 2023 as an upgrade to the earlier Matrice 300 series, this long-range drone comes packed with enhanced features to meet the demanding needs of modern farmers.

Key Features

• Transmission and Control: Features upgraded OcuSync 3 Enterprise Transmission with a maximum transmission range of 12.4 miles and supports triple-channel 1080p HD live feeds, ensuring stable and reliable video transmission even in challenging environments​​.

• Flight Performance: Boasts a 55-minute maximum flight time and IP55 water and dust protection rating, allowing for extended operations in various weather conditions​​.

• Sensing and Positioning: Equipped with 6 directional sensing and positioning, providing comprehensive obstacle avoidance capabilities, essential for navigating complex environments​​.

• Payload Compatibility: Supports multiple gimbals and has a max payload capacity of 2.7 kg, compatible with the Zenmuse H20 Series, Zenmuse H20N, Zenmuse P1, and Zenmuse L2 cameras, along with third-party payloads via DJI Payload SDK​. In particular, specialized tasks like vegetation analysis can be done with the MicaSense cameras.

• Battery and Power Efficiency: The new TB65 battery supports up to 400 charging cycles, and the drone's dual-battery system facilitates hot swapping, significantly reducing downtime and flight cost per operation​​.

• Intelligent Operation Modes: Offers advanced mission planning features like Waypoint, Mapping, Oblique, Linear Flight, Terrain Follow, Smart Oblique, and automated precision inspections with AI Spot Check.

• Navigation Systems: Employs a comprehensive suite of GNSS (GPS, GLONASS, BeiDou, and Galileo) for precise positioning.

• Operating Temperatures: Designed to operate between -20° to 50°C, ensuring functionality in a wide range of environmental conditions.

• Remote Controller: Features a 7.02-inch LCD touchscreen, IP54 rated, with extensive operating times and Wi-Fi 6 capabilities.

Its payload flexibility allows for the attachment of various sensors and cameras, enabling farmers and agronomists to capture a wide array of data types, including high-resolution images, thermal imaging, and LiDAR data. For instance, with the MicaSense payload for multispectral imaging, farmers can analyze crop health, moisture levels, and pest stress. You can get this complete set tailored for farm tasks with the DSLRPros Matrice 350 RTK Agriculture Package. This data can be crucial for identifying issues such as water stress, and nutrient deficiencies early on, allowing for more targeted interventions and ultimately leading to improved crop yields and reduced input costs. 

The advanced GNSS system enhances flight precision, crucial for repetitive, accurate data collection over time, enabling farmers to track crop health trends and make informed decisions. The wide range of operating temperatures means the drone can be deployed in various climatic conditions, from early frost to peak summer heat, without compromising performance.

Furthermore, the Matrice 350 RTK's compatibility with DJI Terra and other third-party applications via its SDKs allows for seamless integration into existing agricultural workflows. This integration supports efficient data processing, enabling users to quickly turn aerial data into actionable insights.

The drone's intelligent flight modes and mission planning features dramatically streamline the process of capturing aerial data, allowing for automated, repeatable flights that collect consistent data over time. This consistency is vital for tracking changes in crop health and making informed decisions about irrigation, pesticide application, and harvest timing.

Moreover, the Matrice 350 RTK's efficient battery system and power management capabilities ensure that large areas can be covered in a single flight, minimizing downtime and maximizing operational efficiency. The drone's durability and weather resistance mean it can be deployed in a variety of environmental conditions, making it an invaluable tool for modern precision agriculture.

4. WingtraOne GEN II

Next is a  VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) drone developed by Wingtra, a Swiss company. This drone has been designed to offer enhanced industrial reliability and mapping versatility, especially with its oblique camera configuration for high-quality 3D drone-mapping data capture. It's suitable for a wide range of industries, from agriculture to urban planning, thanks to its ability to produce detailed 3D maps and digital twins with centimeter-level accuracy.

Key Features

• Oblique 3D Mapping Payload: Includes high-end mapping payloads, particularly the oblique solution with a Sony A6100 camera for outstanding 3D mapping results.

• Integrated PPK on Every Drone: Features a built-in multi-frequency L1/L2 PPK GNSS receiver for centimeter-level absolute accuracy without ground control points (GCPs) across all cameras, including multispectral ones​​.

• MicaSense RedEdge-P Camera: A premium multispectral camera for agricultural and environmental monitoring, combining a panchromatic sensor with five narrow bands to deliver high-resolution multispectral and RGB imagery from one flight​​.

• Remote ID Ready: Equipped with WiFi module compliance with existing and upcoming Remote ID regulations.

• Enhanced Landing Accuracy: Benefits from a new navigation and heading unit (NHU) that improves GNSS accuracy and landing precision down to 2 meters​

The WingtraOne GEN II makes its mark with its VTOL capabilities, allowing it to operate in diverse environments, from confined urban areas to rugged terrain. The integration of the oblique camera significantly enhances the drone's ability to perform detailed 3D modeling of complex structures, making it ideal for large-scale city mapping and industrial applications. This feature, combined with the drone's centimeter-level precision, enables the creation of high-fidelity digital twins with remarkable accuracy​​​​.

The inclusion of multispectral cameras like the MicaSense RedEdge-P and the availability of thermal data collection expand the WingtraOne GEN II's applications into precision agriculture and environmental monitoring, offering detailed insights into crop health and environmental conditions​​. The drone's extended flight coverage significantly outperforms traditional multi-copter drones in both speed and area coverage, proving its efficiency and cost-effectiveness for large-scale surveys​​​​.

Moreover, the WingtraOne GEN II's compliance with Remote ID regulations and its extended service offerings, including accidental damage protection and training, provide users with a complete support system for their operations.

Aerial Advantage for the Modern Farmer

Want to incorporate drones into your farm operations, but are overwhelmed by the technicalities of it all? DSLRPros has developed comprehensive training programs that cater to all experience levels, offering a blend of in-person and advanced courses at our Southern California headquarters. Gain hands-on experience with the latest drone technology to optimize your agricultural practices, under the guidance of seasoned instructors and tailor-made courses to meet your specific needs. The training covers everything from drone operations and maintenance, to working with its integrated software when assessing your crops.

In the next part of this series, we will look at the best agriculture drones for spraying and spot treatment.

Have any questions or need help with your UAV? Get in touch with our team at (877) 299-1075 / (213) 262-9436 or email support@DSLRPros.com