While the prospect of using drones in agriculture sounds promising, keep in mind that this application is still an emerging technology, and as such has a number of challenges that must first be addressed.
The American crop value lies in the hundreds of billions of dollars per year, so even a small yield improvement will have a significant economic benefit. However, it is still not clear if in fact drones can provide more usable information at a cost benefit as compared to current aircraft and satellite imaging.
The piece of the puzzle that is currently missing is the lack of expertise to analyze the data, compare it with what is happening on the ground, and recommend a proper course of action to address crop issues. There are services that provide imaging data, but an investment needs to be made in terms of time, money, and software to be able to extract meaningful information from the data. This is currently not being done that well from sources who provide imagery from satellites or aircraft. It is not clear how this is going to change when crop imagery is obtained from drones. However, the technological advancements of drones in agriculture is progressing more rapidly than from satellite or aircraft imagery sources.
There are further problems that still need to be addressed. The generation of calibrated images that provide the added value of monitoring crops over time is still under investigation. Image variability is also affected by different sun angles, and the effect of cloud cover. The advancement of drone image calibration will soon address these technical problems, and provide meaningful crop performance metrics.
Drones in Agriculture Summary
Improving crop yield is an ever pressing problem for farmers and always will be. However, for the first time in generations, digital and technological advancements enable farmers to make large improvements in their performance. On a small scale it is important for an individual farmer to profitable. On a global scale, this ties into the problem of feeding an ever-increasing global population. This is further complicated with the issues of environmental impact, the need to reduce water waste, eliminate chemical run off, and carbon dioxide emissions. Digital technology can contribute to addressing these problems to establish sustainable farming processes.
All members of the agriculture system need to embrace new digital technologies in order to make their operations more productive, profitable, and efficient. Large farms can benefit from a range of applicable data to increase the amount of food produced from the same area. Doing so will potentially result in an improved financial agriculture performance, and higher profits. Smaller farms can also benefit from digital technology to improve their crop yields.