Agriculture is considered to be the prime area of potential growth in the drone industry. A recent report from PwC valued the market for agricultural drones at a staggering $32.4 billion. In order to keep up with the increasing demand, their analysts say agriculture will have to revolutionise the way it produces food and become much more productive.
We saw yet another example of the trend this week. Chinese consumer drone maker DJI launched a new eight-rotor drone that is designed to spray pesticides on crops. The $15,000 drone can spray pesticides on seven to 10 acres of farmland an hour, depending on how much it needs to climb, descend or turn to follow the terrain.
Drones have the potential to implement better plantation with crop rotation strategies and give crucial inputs related to the daily progress of crops, according to another report by Grand View Research.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the key highlights from the PwC report.
What are agricultural drones? They are smaller and cheaper than conventional consumer or military drones, and equipped with highly efficient and advanced sensors and imaging capabilities. These UAVs can be integrated at every stage of the crop lifecycle, from soil analysis to crop monitoring, irrigation and harvesting.
The report discusses, in-detail, the various ways these drones are being used by farmers. For example, drones are able to produce 3D maps allowing for early soil analysis, which can be used to plan seed planting patterns. These drone planting systems help decrease planting costs by 85%, according to the report.
Drones can also use thermal sensors to tell exactly which parts of a field lack water or need improvements. Their precise and accurate crop spraying ensures the best coverage and application of fertilizers or pesticides on lands. Drones can scan the ground, and maintain the right distance from the crops to spray the correct amount of liquid, modulating spraying in real time for even coverage.The report estimates that aerial spraying can be done as much as five times faster than with traditional machinery.
Finally, one of the latest developments highlighted in the report is the drone’s ability to assess a plant’s health and spot bacteria or fungal infections. They can scan crops using visible light (VIS) and near-infrared (NIR) light, which can spot changes in plants and indicate their health.
The report from PwC’s new Drone Powered Solutions centre makes the following prediction for the future:
“Drones will allow farming to become a highly data-driven industry, which eventually will lead to an increase in productivity and yields. Due to their ease of use and low cost, drones can be used for producing time series animations showing the precise development of a crop. Such analysis could reveal production inefficiencies and lead to better crop management. With those possibilities in mind, it can be assumed that this technology will transform agriculture into a high-tech industry for the first time, with decisions being based on real gathering and processing of data.”
And PwC isn’t the only one with high expectations for agricultural drones:
- Bank of America Merrill Lynch projects agriculture to make up almost 80% of the commercial drone market in the future.
- Goldman Sachs predicts the agriculture sector to be the largest user of drones in the U.S. and the second largest in the world in the next five years.
- Infinium Global Research expects the Global Agricultural Drones Market to surpass $3.5 billion by 2021.
- Markets and Markets forecast the market to reach $4.2 billion by 2022, citing the rise in awareness about the benefits of agriculture drones among the farmers and agronomists and the availability of software solutions for field surveys and data analytics as key factors driving growth.
The following are the key areas that aerial and ground-based drones will be used throughout the crop cycle:
- Soil & field analysis
- Crop spraying
- Crop monitoring
- Health Assessment
For more information on this topic, and a full list of related documentation, visit the UAV-Drones section of our website.
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