Technology in farming is constantly evolving. Collecting accurate, reliable data is essential to capitalize on technologies such as variable rate application of chemicals and fertilizer and aid in crop monitoring at a level once not imagined. Some current forms of collecting paddock data include:
Combine harvester – yield maps (crop yield as harvester works through paddock)
Satellite imagery – color and near infrared (NIR) bands to produce natural images & vegetation indices such as Normalized
Pesticide spraying –aerial pesticide spraying via drones with advantages
Tractor –digital elevation model (DEM) collected from high accuracy GPS
Utility vehicles e.g. Soil sampling pH & nutrition, electromagnetic conductivity,
Handheld with GPS –soil sampling
Stationary – moisture probe, weather station
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are emerging as a cost effective way to collect data. UAVs are as the name suggests an unmanned vehicle which flies over the paddock to collect data. These machines are generally compact, can be cheap, mechanically simple, fly below cloud cover and are on their way to being easy to operate with advanced autopilot systems.
It is important to consider all aspects pertaining to the agricultural UAV Solution as a robust, timely, cost effective way to collect usable data to improve yields and overall profitability in sustainable farming systems.
UAV Solution = platform + GPS + autopilot & communication +pesticide spraying + sensor + data processing & integration + legal & operation
There are two main platforms available: fixed wing and multi-rotor. A fixed wing platform has the advantage of covering large areas efficiently, whereas a multi-rotor shines in being able to remain very stable in challenging conditions with large payloads.
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are the backbone of most spatial technologies. GPS on the UAV tells the autopilot where it is at all times. In addition, GPS links the data collected to its spatial position (aka geo-referencing).
UAV autopilots improve very quickly with increased reliability, especially within the open source community. Autopilots are essential for being able to effortlessly fly over a whole area to collect the desired data.
The most complex part of collecting good data is having the correct sensor. For plant biomass data, the most important spectral range is in the near infrared spectrum.
Although collecting good data is the most challenging part, the most time consuming (and/or expensive) part can be processing it to a point where it can be integrated into precision agriculture systems.