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Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, are making their way into precision agriculture as a valuable tool for monitoring crop health. While this technology is heavily used for agriculture in some areas of the world, such as Japan, drones in agriculture are relatively new in the United States.
Drones can be used by farmers to efficiently scout fields, collecting imagery and delivering data back to the farmer for analysis and follow-up. Agronomists traditionally scout fields by walking the length of the acreage and looking for problems – a time consuming process that may miss some areas. Drones, however, take a more comprehensive look and gather more accurate information in less time.
Chad Colby, a pilot, UAV advocate and owner of AgTechTalk.com, said drones are revolutionizing the way farmers manage their inputs, which results in improved yields.
"Drones are able to provide information in real time – a significant benefit to growers who use this technology,” he said. “The earlier the farmer gets the information, the quicker he can make important management decisions for his crop.”
Once airborne, a drone captures videos and/or still images of a field as it searches for any signs of plant stress, disease, nutrient deficiency, weeds or insect infestation. The imagery collected can be viewed on the controller’s tablet computer while the craft is flying over the field. Drones allow farmers to collect better and more complete data, cut input and labor costs and more closely monitor crop health.
As drone technology continues to evolve, more farmers will be able to afford them. Currently, the base price of a drone is about $1,200 and increases depending on the model and capabilities included. Additional costs include advanced imagery software and data analysis tools.
The future of drone usage in agriculture looks promising. “This technology is really advancing by the week,” Colby said. “It’s exciting to see what the future holds with the development and implementation of drones on U.S. farms.”