5 Things To Know About Drones in Agriculture

Whether you have never used a UAV before and are thinking about using drones in a farming operation, or, maybe you've been using one for a while; there are some things that we've learned about using drones on the farm that you need to know.

1) INFRARED & NDVI

The Sentera Single NIR sensor is so small it can be attached to smaller UAV platforms such as the DJI Phantom 3 Professional or Phantom 4 Professional.  

The Sentera Single NIR sensor is so small it can be attached to smaller UAV platforms such as the DJI Phantom 3 Professional or Phantom 4 Professional.  

For those of you relatively new to the world of precision agriculture, you may not have heard of the acronym NDVI before.  Normalized Difference Vegetation Index is a crop health analysis tool that allows you to determine where your crops are growing vigorously, or if they are stressed due to a number of possible variables.  Drones equipped with near-infrared sensors (such as the Sentera Single NIR, Dual NIR/RGB, or Quad-Multispectral sensors) scan the field to gauge the amount of infrared light that is reflected off the crop.  A healthy plant will reflect a high amount of infrared light, and an unhealthy plant absorbs more infrared light, reflecting less back to the sensors.  Why not save thousands of dollars on fertilizer and pesticides that go to waste on low yield areas.

2) DIGITAL ELEVATION MODELS (DEM)

Drainage seems to be one of the biggest headaches for the farmers we've talked to.  You dig a trench, but the water still doesn't drain properly!  But water doesn't drain up-hill, and unless you have highly precise elevation measurements, it is often the case that the trench isn't deep enough.  With Propeller AeroPoints, you can map an area with RTK precision using any drone, paired with mapping software (such as Maps Made Easy, or Drone Deploy).  If you want to make the right decision, you need to have the right data.  Whether you buy the equipment yourself, or you hire a drone service provider to get the data for you - it is critical when making accurate drainage decisions on your farming operation.

3) DRONES ARE EASY TO FLY

Matthew Johnson, owner of M3 Aerial getting ready to launch the DJI Inspire 1. You can gather NDVI when it is cloudy, but try to avoid collecting when there are spotty cloud cover that casts temporary shadows on the field during your flight...

Matthew Johnson, owner of M3 Aerial getting ready to launch the DJI Inspire 1. You can gather NDVI when it is cloudy, but try to avoid collecting when there are spotty cloud cover that casts temporary shadows on the field during your flight...

If you've ever played a video game in your life, then there is a good chance you can be an expert UAV pilot in a short period of time.  If you haven't played a video game - don't worry, as long as you can do some basic maneuvers in case of emergency (object avoidance), most UAV systems have fully autonomous options, so you don't actually have to do anything other than program in the flight.  M3 Aerial offers a few systems for crop analysis

4) DRONES HAVE COME WAY DOWN IN PRICE

Now, I don't want to get your hopes up too much here - yes the cost of drones has come down over the last few years, but it still requires an investment on your part to have such a powerful tool in your farming arsenal.  Think of the benefits that you get from these machines!  You can get a very basic model such as the Phantom series by DJI for as little as $1500-2000. The functionality of these "entry level" drones is limited on the farm, however, and an investment of $7000-15000 is required to get some of the equipment that allows you to do NDVI and RTK Elevation mapping.

5) SAFETY

This should be #1, but I didn't want to scare you away.  The biggest problem with UAVs right now is that too many people are using them that don't understand the risks, and haven't been trained properly.  You have to understand that these machines are powerful tools, they are not toys.  There are many rules that are in place to govern their use to ensure that people are using them safely.  Accidents happen when they are misused.  If you are using a drone on your farming operation, you must obtain an SFOC as you are operating commercially.  An SFOC is free to apply for!  It is just a process that ensures that you know what you are doing, and that you understand everything about your aircraft and its usage and limitations to ensure safe operation.

M3 Aerial offers a UAV Operators Ground School Course across Canada which is a requirement by Transport Canada to have completed (or other similar course) in order to obtain your SFOC.  Learn more about the course and what you will gain from it by clicking here.  We also offer training on UAV systems to get you comfortable and confident in operating your drone safely and efficiently.

Matthew Johnson

M3 Aerial Productions, Wolseley, MB,

I am a professional educator, serving member of the Canadian Armed Forces, UAV pilot, and owner of M3 Aerial Productions.

I am pleased to provide the community with amazing images they have never seen before, of their homes, farms, cottages, and more.