Farming comes of age, with drones to aid

Wed, 2015-10-21 16:04 -- SCC India Staff

Agriculture Drones

Drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are seen by many as a new, transformative tool used in precision agriculture.

It still may be early days, as far as India is concerned, but the potential and benefits of the technology is enormous. According to economic report released by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) within the first three years  70,000 jobs will be created in the United States, with an economic impact of $ 13.6 billion. In the next decade the size can potentially grow to $ 82 billion with over 100,000 jobs  created.

What is Agriculture Drones all about...

According to research using drones for crop surveillance can drastically increase farm crop yields while minimizing the cost of walking the fields and it also allows insurance claims companies to calculate the exact damage to crops or the extent of loss by viewing the same in details.

Indiana-based Precision Drone, one of the specialized company for crop surveillance drones list down the following advantages of using this technology -Increase yields - Finds potential yield limiting problems in a timely fashion

  • Saves time – No need to walk, at times it is now not possible to cover large areas of field by walking
  • Ease of use - Agriculture drones or UAV products follow preset standards which allows new operators to know the functioning with ease
  • Integrated GIS mapping – set a fixed flight pattern
  • Crop health imaging – The colour contrast technology helps one to check the true health of the crops.

Through live image and videos, one can see exactly what parts of a field are struggling with plant disease, insects or a lack of water. Similarly, with the advancements in technology, 3-D images and thermal readings from aerial observations could be tied with other data to give farmers even more information about growing conditions.

"Remote sensing through unmanned aerial vehicles allows non-destructive sampling to observe agronomic indicators every square metre. We did a pilot project last year and will increase its coverage across Rajasthan and Gujarat this year," Jatin Singh, CEO of Skymet.

India's Initiative – Kisan Project

The Indian government, launched a pilot project called Kisan (meaning farmer in english), through which it will use satellite- and drone-based imaging and other geospatial technology to get timely and accurate data on crop yields.

One of the main objective of this project is to reduced delay in settling insurance claims for crop damage by using drones, satellite-based imaging, and geospatial technology to get timely and accurate data on yields.

At present, yield loss due to natural calamity is calculated based on field reports and assessment of crop-cutting experiments by district and block agriculture officers. Since these reports are often mired in inconsistencies, insurers end up processing inadequate claims.

Kisan envisages the use of high-resolution remote-sensing data both from satellite- and drone-based imaging, sophisticated modelling activity and other geospatial technology for improving the accuracy of crop yield estimation through more efficient crop cutting experiments.

Block-level yield estimation, development of a new index-based insurance approach, and using remote sensing data are also envisaged under the project.

Anil Rajvanshi, Director, Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) in Maharashtra said “I feel wealth and security of the country comes from its land and hence what is needed is sustainable, high-tech and high productivity agriculture which will be remunerative and help provide both food and energy security. Precision agriculture (drone technology), which can provide precise inputs like water, fertilizer, and insecticides at the right time to crops, can help bring in the next green revolution.”

The Kisan project will be jointly conducted by Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), India Meteorological Department, CCAFS, state agriculture departments, and remote sensing Centres.

The government has also launched an Android-based App to collect hailstorm data. The App will be used by state agriculture officials and the data will help the Union agriculture ministry in fast assessment of damage to crops because of hailstorm.

"It's a beneficial technology for states that have digitised land records or are in the process of digitising. Pictures clicked by the unmanned aerial vehicles can be superimposed on digital maps of states and we can identify farms and crops sown," PJ Joseph, chairman and managing director of Agriculture Insurance Company.

Another advantage of the technology is that it helps in identifying the right time – for e.g. the quality of wine grapes is determined largely by when they're harvested - picking them at the exact right time for sugar content. Using Agribotix software, a grower in India can schedule harvests for specific plots rather than all at once, achieving higher revenues at lower cost.