How is drone-assisted technology shaping the modern agricultural ecosystem?

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Agricultural transformation is a crucial aspect for every developing country. Mainly because almost all countries aspire to achieve high-income country status, and agricultural development is an important aspect contributing to this. Especially in countries like India, where at least 60% of the population depends on agriculture as their main source of income, sustainable development in this sector plays a central role. At present, the agricultural sector contributes 18% of India’s GDP (according to Statistical, a German database company). And one of the main reasons why it has been able to continue contributing significantly to India’s economic growth is its ever-changing technological adoption.

The biggest benefactor in nearly every industry today, including agriculture, is technology. The successful fusion of agricultural values ​​and technological innovations paves the way for a greener, more productive and sustainable future. One such technological invention is drone technology. Officially known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, drones are especially useful for boosting agricultural production, crop assessment, risk management, building systems warning in disaster forecasting and the conservation of forests, fisheries and wildlife.

It is pertinent to note that in January this year, the Indian government told the Supreme Court that no state had reported starvation deaths. However, independent organizations have pointed out that a considerable part of the Indian population cannot afford three full meals. They also pointed out that the most undernourished population resides in India. The question is how, as a nation, can we ensure an end to hunger and malnutrition while ensuring economic growth? The answer is simple and straightforward, recognizing and encouraging the growth of agri-tech initiatives.

In this context, here are some ways in which drone technology is contributing to the growth of agricultural production by evaluating yield forecasting, crop monitoring/evaluation, crop risk reduction, disaster forecasting and cost optimization:

  1. Drones used for yield estimation: With the help of multispectral and hyperspectral payloads, drones contribute to greater accuracy in yield analysis. Performing an effective and efficient yield analysis can give farmers and other stakeholders much-needed information to determine crop and farmer income/loss. Both government and private institutions that deal directly with farmers can greatly benefit farmers through accurate yield predictions and ultimately help increase the farmer’s income. By leveraging modernist drones, real-time information on crop signatures and health can be obtained.
  2. Satellite versus drone: Satellite monitoring does not fully meet the detail required in cloudy weather conditions. Data obtained from UAVs has much better resolution, information content and efficiency. The effective approach to solving the task of yield estimation and crop loss assessment depends on the integrated use of both remote sensing methods – space-based imagery and UAV-based technologies. In hilly areas, the mountainous terrain casts shadows on images depending on the time of day the photo was taken (Pic. 6). Many terraced cultivated fields are less than the size of a single pixel in a satellite image. In such cases, the UAV images and the use of the neural network model in the reference model ensured the accuracy of the required parameters.
  3. Drone assistance in crop health and stress analysis: In 2018, a pest the attack killed the hopes of more than 41 lakh farmers in Maharashtra. This disaster could have been avoided with the assistance of high-tech drones. By leveraging drones equipped with multi-spectral camera sensors, farm parties can identify crop-related stress and disease well in advance. Data retrieved from advanced sensors represented as orthomosaics helps farmers understand and find new alternatives to increase crop yields and simultaneously reduce crop damage. Likewise, geolocation aerial images provide valuable information that reduces costs and increases yield by a significant percentage. For this purpose, site-specific reports can be generated to assess possible damage in advance.

Crop health and early detection of crop infestations are crucial for governments and farmers. While the former can establish adequate compensation plans for farmers, the latter can plan their future well in advance.

  1. Drones help improve resource efficiency: Aerial imagery combined with machine learning tools can help farmers get accurate estimates of specific agricultural areas. Most farmers have limited resources which with proper drone assistance can be deployed to different parts of farmland in required quantities. In particular, drones equipped with thermal sensors and remote sensing tools can easily and quickly identify areas that need additional water or fertilizer. Field topography in RGB imagery helps farmers position and separate crops to maximize drainage, follow natural land runoff and avoid waterlogging.
  2. Drones save farmers from toxic chemicals: UAVs or drones equipped with pesticide spraying equipment work much more efficiently than manual spraying. It also ensures that manual labor is directed to needed agricultural areas instead of spraying pesticides, which are also toxic to people who come into close contact with chemicals. Drones spraying pesticides are also relatively more efficient in terms of time and cost.

What does the future hold?

Few leading agritech platforms use state-of-the-art aerial surveying drones integrated with high-tech sensors including RGB, multispectral and thermal to get accurate data. This information can be used to help farmers and ultimately the nation. It is unfortunate that in 2020, 7% of the total suicides reported in the country are linked to people working in the agricultural sector (NCRB report). This is mainly due to the fact that even today many farmers and other agricultural actors are unaware of the benefits of futuristic agricultural technologies such as drone assistance. They are still caught off guard by certain disasters that ultimately result in poor harvests or negative yields. It is high time we started to take advantage of the technology we have and eradicate hunger and malnutrition from the face of the earth while improving the economic returns of the agricultural sector.



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The opinions expressed above are those of the author.



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