Agricultural transformation is a crucial aspect for every developing nation. Primarily because almost every country aspires to reach high-income status, and agricultural development is an important aspect contributing towards the same. Particularly in countries like India, where at least 60% of the population depends on agriculture as their primary source of income, sustainable development in this sector plays a pivotal role. At present, the agriculture sector contributes 18% of India’s GDP (according to Statista, a German database company). And one of the biggest reasons why it has been able to continue contributing significantly to India’s economic growth is because of its ever-evolving technological adoption.
The biggest benefactor in almost every industry today, including agriculture, is technology. The fruitful amalgamation of agriculture values and technological innovations is paving the path for a greener, productive, and sustainable future. One such technological invention is drone technology. Officially known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) and Unmanned Aircraft Systems, drones are particularly helpful in boosting crop production, crop assessment, risk management, setting-up forewarning systems with respect to forecasting disasters, and conserving 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 highlighted that a considerable section of India’s population cannot afford three square meals. They also accentuated that the highest undernourished population resides in India. The question is how as a nation can we ensure the end of hunger and malnutrition while also guaranteeing economic growth? The answer is simple and straightforward, acknowledging and promoting the growth of agritech initiatives.
Against this backdrop, here are a few ways drone technology is assisting the growth of agricultural outputs by evaluating yield predictions, crop monitoring / assessment, reducing crop-related risks, forecasting disasters and optimizing costs:
- Drones used for Yield Estimation: With help of Multispectral and hyperspectral payloads drones helps in higher accuracy towards yield analysis. Conducting effective and efficient yield analysis can give farmers and other stakeholders much-needed insights to determine the crop and farmers income / loss. Government and private institutions who deal directly with farmers can benefit the farmers largely by accurate yield predictions and ultimately help in increasing the income of the farmer. By leveraging modernistic drones, one can get real-time information about crop signatures and crop health.
- Satellite Vs Drone: Satellite monitoring do not fully meet the required details in cloudy weather conditions. Data obtained from UAV have a much better resolution, information content and efficiency. The effective approach to solve the task of yield estimation and crop loss assessment depends on the integrated use of both remote sensing methods – space imaging and UAV-based technologies. In hilly areas, the mountainous terrain creates shadows on the images depending on the time of day when the photo was taken (Pic. 6). Many fields under terrace farming have a width less than the size of a single pixel on a satellite image. In such cases UAV images and the use of neural network model in the reference pattern ensured the accuracy of the required parameters.
- Drone assistance in Crop Health and Stress Analysis: In 2018, a pest attack killed the hopes of more than 41 lakh farmers in Maharashtra. This disaster could have been avoided with the help of high-tech drone assistance. By leveraging drones that come with multispectral camera sensors, farm parties can identify stress and crop-related diseases well in advance. Data retrieved from advanced sensors represented as Orthomosaics help farmers understand and find novel alternatives to increase crop yields and reduce crop damage simultaneously. Similarly, geo-tagging aerial images provide valuable information that reduces cost and boosts yield by a significant percentage. For this purpose, site-specific reports can be generated to assess the possible damage ahead of time.
Crop health and early detection of crop infestations are crucial for both governments and farmers. While the former can ascertain adequate compensation plans for farmers, the latter can plan out their future well in advance.
- Drones help improve resource efficiency: Aerial imagery combined with machine learning tools can help farmers get accurate estimates of specific farmland areas. Most farmers have limited resources, which with correct drone assistance, can be deployed in different parts of farmlands in required quantities. In particular, drones with Thermal sensors and Remote sensing tools can easily and swiftly identify which areas require additional water or fertilizers. The topography of fields from RGB Imagery assists farmers in positioning and segregating the crops to maximize drainage, follow natural land runoff, and avoid water-logging.
- Drones saving farmers from toxic chemicals: UAV or drones equipped with pesticide spraying equipment work far more effectively than manual spraying. It also ensures that manual labor is directed towards necessary areas of farming instead of spraying pesticides which is also toxic for people who come in close contact with chemicals. Drones spraying pesticides are also relatively more time and cost-efficient.
What does the future hold?
Few leading agritech platforms are using cutting-edge aerial surveying drones integrated with high-tech sensors, including RGB, Multispectral, and Thermal, to procure accurate data. This information can be used to assist farmers and, ultimately, the nation. It is unfortunate that in 2020, 7% of the total suicides reported in the country were related to people in the farming sector (NCRB report). This is primarily because even today, many farmers and other farm-stakeholders are unaware of the benefits of futuristic farm technologies like drone assistance. They are still getting blindsided by certain disasters that ultimately result in bad crops or negative outputs. It is high time we start leveraging the technology in hand and eradicating hunger and malnourishment from the face of the earth while also improving the economic yields of the farm sector.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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