UAV applications in Agriculture
World food production remains one of the foremost global issues for the foreseeable future. According to the World Bank, a sobering 70 percent increase in global agricultural production will be necessary to support a population projected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Rising to meet this challenge is “precision agriculture”, a whole of farm management concept based upon the use of technology to optimize a farmers return on inputs. It relies upon an umbrella of technologies including Global Positioning Systems (GPS), satellite imagery and geographic information systems, to effectively manage the application of resources (i.e. seed, water, pesticides etc) and reduce the amount of fuel and time spent in the field. Precision agriculture has been rapidly adopted as a modern approach to farming in recent years as the cost of investment in associated technologies steadily decreases. Set to dramatically reduce the cost of these practices even further and introduce new capabilities in the process is the advent of unmanned aircraft.
One of the main areas that UAVs will vastly improve upon present precision agriculture technology is in the collection of aerial imagery. The use of this data enables a farmer to more effectively monitor and assess the health of entire fields of crop which would otherwise be limited to visual spot checks from roadside or easily accessible locations in the field. Having this information available not only enables a farmer to make management decision appropriately, such as the precise and variable application of water or fertilizer in specific areas requiring intervention, but also enables them to subsequently measure the impact that these actions have had on their crop. Current solutions in the market place for capturing aerial imagery are satellite and manned aircraft, both of which involve significant costs and lead times for acquisition. UAVs on the other hand will be able to provide “on demand” aerial imagery capture at a higher resolution than conventional means and at a fraction of the cost. Furthermore, not only will UAVs provide options for the monitoring of crops but also for the application of product, with platforms such as the Yamaha RMAX already capable of being equipped with a sprayer that can disperse granules, coated grains and fertilizers.
In a series of upcoming articles, UAV Insider will shine a spotlight on the advances being made to farming practices with unmanned aircraft, highlighting the people, products and platforms that are currently paving the way.