Data-driven agriculture for the new generation of farmer
For centuries farmers have walked their fields monitoring the health of their crops. It is a time-consuming process. But this is changing.
Agriculture drones are becoming a key driver of innovation: Helping the new generation of farmers automate crop spraying and seeding, monitor and inspect crop growth and improve farming efficiency, leading to increased outputs and maximising productivity.
Crop spraying, seed spreading and land surveying.
Specialist drones like the DJI Agras range can automate crop spraying and seed spreading, and data from drones like the DJI Phantom 4 RTK and Phantom 4 Multispectral can be used to extract soil characteristics - like temperatures, moisture, and elevation - which helps with accurate soil sampling.
On-demand and high-resolution drone data is perfect for capturing and accurately reporting events that lead to economic loss, like crop injury and reduced health.
Drones cover areas more quickly, offer real-time insights, are more precise than traditional methods, and are non-evasive to crops.
In a nutshell, drones provide vital data which helps farmers and growers monitor, plan and manage their farms more effectively - saving time and money in the process.
Up to 100 acres
Covered in a working day with a drone
85% lower planting costs
When using 3D field mapping and soil analysis with drones.
$1.3 billion annually
Could be saved by corn, soybean, and wheat farmers by using drones, says one study.
Is the predicted figure that the agricultural drone market will grow to by 2024.
How Can Drones Be Used In Agriculture?
The versatility of drones and their sophisticated sensors enables farmers to utilise the technology for a number of reasons. These include:
- Crop Monitoring: Drones monitor crops accurately and more cheaply than traditional methods and offer key insights into crop development, as well as highlighting inefficient and ineffective practices.
- Soil and Field Analysis: Drones can produce 3D maps, quickly and cheaply, which help farmers make important decisions about seed-planting pattern design and nitrogen-level management, for example.
- Health Assessment: Drones can capture multispectral data to help farmers gather key insights into crop health. Such early intervention is crucial to remedy any issues.
- Irrigation: Drones equipped with monitoring equipment can identify areas of a field experiencing hydric stress (lack of water). Thermal sensors provide crucial information, allowing targeted diagnosis of areas receiving too much or too little water.
- Aerial Planting: Drones can fly over a potential planting zone to monitor the best areas for growth. They can then drop biodegradable pods, filled with seed and nutrients, into the ground.
- Herd Management: Farmers are deploying drones to monitor livestock. In some cases, drones with loudspeakers, like the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Series, are used for animal movement, playing a pre-recorded dog bark. Farmers say this method puts less stress on the herd.
- Crop Spraying: Crops can cover large areas quickly, applying liquids with great precision.
- Insurance: Drones can play a key role in insurance, at both the pre-and-post-claim stage. Using a drone helps for site inspection, claims decisions, fraud prevention, and risk management.
Farm Drone Use Cases
Learn more about how farm drones are transforming agirculture.
CROP SPRAYING DRONES
Automated, targeted and precise.
Agricultural drone spraying is becoming an increasingly popular application, helping to maintain crop health and yields.
Drones are being deployed for spraying for disease, weed, and pest control, as well as spreading pesticides and fertilisers.
Using drones for this application makes sense, offering a fully-automated, targeted and precise solution, and replacing labour-intensive, time-consuming, and potentially harmful use of backpack sprayers and other equipment.
This method is particularly useful in areas where the terrain is undulating, steep, or hard to access.
Deploying a drone is also a cheaper option than using crop dusters to spray fields too large for manual labour.
The DJI Agras is an industry-leading crop spraying drone. There are more than 40,000 active Agras on the market around the world.
Current regulations do not prevent drone spraying of pesticides in the UK, but the HSE needs to be satisfied that spraying can be done without causing harm to the environment or human health. The HSE accepts requests to permit the application of pesticides by drone. Visit here for more details.
Crop Spraying Drones v Manual Methods
Using drones for crop spraying is a far more efficient and cost-effective process than manual methods.
This table provides a breakdown of the benefits in real terms of deploying a DJI Agras drone over traditional methods, in terms of efficiency, safety, and control. This example is based on the DJI Agras T16 but provides a snapshot of the overall benefits when deploying any drone in the Agras series.
DJI Agras T16
7-10 acres a day
150 acres per hour
Coordinate with the positioning system to carry out path planning and improve work efficiency.
Supports special aviation chemicals, high utilisation rate, can save more than 20% of pesticides.
It is easy to leak or re-spray, and low pesticide penetration.
Due to the low efficiency of work, it is difficult to carry out large-area protection in a short period of time, which is not suitable for unified control.
The pesticide is sprayed uniformly and has good penetration due to the downwards wind stream from the aircraft.
Can carry out large-area operations in a short period of time.
Workers are very close to pesticides, which is a serious health hazard.
The worker is separated from the pesticide and does not need to access hard-to-reach areas.
Crop inspection drones
Save money and identify problems through aerial data.
Crop inspection is a vital part of farming and a drone can be deployed to capture fast, accurate, and meaningful insights.
Drones can carry a combination of zoom, thermal, multispectral, NDVI, and visual cameras to draw precise data which cannot be seen with the naked eye, or is difficult to collect from ground level.
This provides vital real-time insights about crop growth, differences between healthy and distressed plants, and weed control, thus enabling agricultural professionals to identify issues quickly, precisely and accurately, and to better target their field scouting.
Drones can be used to carry out these surveys as frequently as the job demands. This precise and repeatable multi-year drone data allows for better planning and monitoring of improvements, such as ditches and evolving fertiliser applications.
As an added advantage, this meaningful data can be processed instantly and can be shared quickly with key staff and decision-makers to help maximise agricultural outputs.
Multispectral imaging camera sensors are playing a vital role in agriculture, especially when integrated with a drone.
This imaging technology uses a range of wavebands - including red, red-edge, and near-infrared - to highlight a wealth of meaningful agricultural insights, which in turns leads to smarter and more informed farming.
Generally speaking, multi-spectral sensors collect light from various wavelengths that the human eye cannot distinguish. This imagery helps farmers learn more about soil productivity, plant health, estimate crop yields, and manage irrigation, among other things.
Among the many benefits of multispectral imaging, farmers can find out about NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index); the index of plant greenness and the classic indicator of plant health. NDVI data enables agriculture professionals to learn more about canopy coverage, pest outbreaks, soil moisture, and how to optimise crop rotation.
Farmers can also collect data from multispectral vegetation bands for a range of insights. These bands include:
- Green: Relates to the reflected energy in the 500-600 nm spectral band, and helps detect chlorophyll levels.
- Red: The reflected energy in the 600-700 nm spectral band. For crops, this gives excellent contrast between plants and soil.
- Red-Edge: A very narrow band (700-730 nm) on the entry point to near-infrared. This band is sensitive to plant distress and provides information on chlorophyll, which is useful for crop-health analysis and plant counting.
- NIR (Near-Infrared): The wavelengths in the 700 nm - 1.3µm range. It offers strong reflectance and is used to show chlorophyll levels. NIR can be used to monitor changes in crop health and productivity.
Because multispectral imaging plays an important role in agriculture, numerous drone solutions are on the market to enable this data collection.
The DJI Phantom 4 Multispectral is an all-in-one, out-of-the-box solution, with the ability to capture RGB and multispectral data covering the blue, green, red, red-edge, and near-infrared bands.
Other leading solutions include the RedEdge-MX Dual Camera Imaging System, from MicaSense, providing 10 bands for advanced remote sensing and agricultural research. It can be integrated with DJI drones, such as the Inspire 2, and UAS in the Matrice 200 Series.
Meanwhile, the 4P and 4P+ sensors, from SlantRange, allow accurate data collection across six spectral bands, and can be integrated with DJI DRONES through DJI’s Payload SDK.
Best Drones for Crop Inspection
Different drones are good at different roles
As the world's leading drone manufacturer, DJI has a number of solutions to help farmers collect vital insights about crop health and vegetation management.
Phantom 4 Multispectral
The Phantom 4 Multispectral is a dedicated drone for precision agriculture, enabling agricultural professionals to capture plant-level data.
The drone features a built-in imaging system comprising 1 RGB camera and a multispectral camera with five sensors covering the blue, green, red, red edge and near-infrared bands.
Users can switch between NDVI images and the live RGB feed to highlight attention areas and enable targeted treatment decisions.
The Phantom 4 Multispectral benefits from RTK accuracy, while the DJI TimeSync system allows for accurate positioning data on images captured by the cameras.
This enables farmers to make timely and informed decisions on crop treatment and health, which lowers costs, saves on resources, and helps to maximise yields.
DJI Matrice 300 RTK
The DJI Matrice M300 RTK is another reliable option for farmers. While not strictly an agricultural drone, the M300 RTK can be integrated with different payloads to capture key farming insights, including the H20T camera which boasts thermal and zoom capabilities. Thermal imaging has a range of applications in agriculture, such as irrigation scheduling, detecting plant disease, and estimating fruit yields, while a zoom camera can be used to hone in on specific areas.
The DJI Matrice 300 RTK can also be integrated with third-party payloads, enabling farmers to pair the drone with dedicated and specialist NDVI and multispectral sensors.
DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise
Meanwhile, the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Series offers a lightweight, foldable and portable option for farmers. The standard Mavic 2 Enterprise features a dynamic zoom camera, while the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual comes with thermal capabilities. Both drones can carry modular accessories, such as a loudspeaker, spotlight, and beacon, to add versatility to agricultural missions.
Agriculture Mapping Drones
Digitise your field into insightful maps.
Drone mapping is becoming a key tool for farmers.
Digitising your field helps to maximise operational efficiency and monitor crop production, plant breeding, irrigation, and animal damage.
Drone mapping provides better insights into crops from above, serving as the foundation for work on the ground.
Turn images into insightful maps which can help with decision-making and can be shared quickly.
Drone mapping also provides the chance to set pre-determined flight paths for autonomous missions and repeatable and accurate data collection.
Drone mapping can provide the following insights:
- Field Inspection: Identify issues with quick-to-create, high-resolution maps.
- Irrigation: Manage irrigation and minimise soil erosion by creating a digital surface model. This helps farmers understand irrigation variability and highlight areas at risk of erosion.
- Field Interpretation: Analyse different vegetation index maps to identify key crop areas that need to be addressed and ensure the sustainability of new techniques.
- Targeted Analysis: Generate comprehensive zone maps to identify how to achieve increased yields.
- Insurance Claims: Create maps to validate and sustain insurance claims by capturing footprints of your crop damage.
- Historical Analysis: Compare side-by-side maps to track a crop’s progress over time. This enables you to dig deeper into problem areas, take a closer look at patterns, and visualise how crop emergence and plant health played out through the entire growing season.
Best Drones For Farm Mapping
The DJI Phantom 4 is an ideal drone for agricultural mapping.
The Phantom 4 RTK performs aerial mapping 100 times faster than manual operations, helping to scan and map target areas to identify all aspects of a field.
Benefits of the DJI Phantom 4 RTK include:
- Capture quality image data with one-inch 20MP CMOS sensor. The mechanical shutter makes mapping missions or regular data capture seamless, taking pictures without the risk of shutter blur.
- Achieve survey-grade results with greater efficiency.
- RTK module provides real-time centimetre-level positioning data for improved absolute accuracy of image metadata.
- TimeSync system continually aligns the flight controller, camera, and RTK module.
- Compatible with DJI Terra and other drone mapping software.
- Phantom 4 Multispectral Multispectral can extract soil characteristics - temperatures, moisture, and elevation - which helps with accurate soil sampling.
Transform Your Drone Data
Drone farm mapping software is an important part of using UAS for agriculture, turning collected data into meaningful insights.
Drone mapping software can also be used to streamline the process of deploying a drone, by creating pre-mission flight paths for greater efficiency and automated flights.
There are a number of leading drone farm mapping software solutions on the market. Here's a look at some of them:
DJI's 3D modelling and drone mapping software package can be used to great effect for agriculture.
- Add waypoints to draw a polygon as target areas and flexibly adjust flight parameters as desired, and plan a mission and set desired flight parameters to cover the needs.
- DJI Terra collects imagery of target areas and stitches them into actionable maps in real-time.
- Simplified workflow: The marking of boundaries, obstacles, and calibration points are all done on the DJI Terra interface.
- Process multispectral images to generate vegetation index maps including NDVI and NDRE. Create prescription maps for variable rate application using DJI’s Agras drones to improve crop yields while driving down costs.
- Create maps rapidly (no internet connection required) for faster decision making and action, without leaving the field.
- Eliminate the guesswork by generating precise orthomosaics, digital surface models, index maps, zones and accurate prescription maps.
- Use the Pix4Dcapture app to easily plan and control drone flight for optimal mapping.
- Share your maps with all project stakeholders for seamless collaboration using Pix4Dfields PDF report tool.
The DroneDeploy software package offers agriculture intelligence to enhance year-round management decisions.
User-Friendly Software: Fly 160 acres in less than 15 minutes.
- Spot variability and gather field intelligence with multi-spectral data processing.
- Get real-time insights field-side with Live Map to generate variable rate prescriptions using in-season crop health imagery, and support a more productive scouting programme.
- Understand yield threats before setting foot in your fields.
Skippy Scount App
To help promote drones for agriculture, heliguy™ has partnered with UAS farming company, DroneAG.
UK-based Drone AG has created Skippy Scout, an award-winning real-time crop monitoring tool designed to make farmers’ lives easier by saving time, increasing efficiency and providing accurate results.
This crop monitoring app uses drones to automatically capture images which are analysed by ground-breaking artificial intelligence (AI) to offer arable farmers vital broadacre crop insight.
The phone-based app uses GPS and mapping software to autonomously fly a drone to points in a field selected by the farmer. The images taken by the drone are interpreted by the app to provide an accurate green area index (GAI) and count emerging plants. The quality of image collected can also identify weeds and is accurate enough to capture insect damage on a single leaf.
Jack Wrangham, of DroneAG, said: “Skippy Scout offers every farmer the chance to see and evaluate crops easily and efficiently using just a phone and a drone."
Skippy Scout can be integrated with a range of DJI drones, including the Mavic Mini.
Smart Agriculture Workflows
Harness The DJI Ecosystem For A Complete Farming Solution.
From Planning To Operation - All With Drones
DJI has launched a complete farming solution, from planning to operation, conducted entirely from drones and associated software.
This comprehensive package makes agricultural practices more efficient by combining a range of drones, such as the DJI Agras series, the DJI Phantom 4 RTK, and the DJI Phantom 4 Multispectral.
DJI Terra - a drone mapping software package - can also be utilised in this DJI farming ecosystem to produce agricultural maps from the collected drone data and generate targeted flight paths.
The information below - within the orange bar titled Farming Drone Workflows - shows how multiple DJI platforms can be brought together to provide an end-to-end precision agriculture package.
3D Flight Path Planning
Navigating challenging terrain is now easier, thanks to digitised farming methods.
The DJI Phantom 4 RTK can scan and map target areas to identify all aspects of a field and DJI Terra can process this data to create maps and reconstructions for a range of agricultural insights. This information can then be used to deploy the DJI Agras T16 to specific areas.
In Orchard mode, DJI Agras drones can identify each tree, generate 3D flight routes based on their shapes, and conduct efficient spraying.
Phantom 4 RTK
High-precision data collection
Fast, efficient mapping
AI-generated flight paths
ASpray fertilisers/pesticides quickly and precisely
Spraying method is precise
Easily cover tough terrain
Crop Protection Workflow
The DJI eco-system can be harnessed to provide a comprehensive solution to monitor crop health and generate treatment procedures.
The Phantom 4 Multispectral can scan target areas and generate multispectral charts that provide actionable insights into crop health and help formulate variable spraying and seeding maps.
Users can access DJI Terra shapefiles and apply them to spraying and seeding operations, carried out by Agras drones.
Phantom 4 Multispectral
Data collection through multispectral sensors
47-ha imagery collection in a single flight
Real-Time NDVI Mapping
AI Field Planning
DJI Agras Drones
Spray fertilisers/pesticides quickly and precisely
Cover a large area during each flight
Easily cover tough terrain
Farm Drone Case Studies
Real-world stories highlighting the benefits of deploying UAS for farming.
Agras Vineyard Protection
"Drones more efficient over steep terrain"
DJI Agras drones are being deployed for vineyard management.
Thanks to their automated operation and ability to access hard-to-reach areas, these drones have made vineyard spraying an easy and visible workflow.
Remote Vision is one company deploying DJI Agras drones for vineyard management, flying the MG-1P and T16 in Switzerland.
Tasked with preventing disease, the Agras drones are filled with a range of chemicals to protect the vines from the spread of powdery mildew and other fungal diseases.
The Agras drones can spray 100 litres per hectare and are able to target steep hills which are difficult to access by using a tractor.
Ueli Sager, from Remote Vision, said: "The client has compared drone spraying with earlier tractor spraying. The client is happy with drone spraying for a number of reasons, including no personal contact with pesticides, there is no phytotoxicity, and the DJI Agras is much more efficient over steep terrain."
Rogers Family Coffee Co.
"Drones allow precise mapping"
The Rogers Family Coffee Co. is using drones to create new management methods on their research farm in Kona, Hawaii.
Using DJI drones integrated with MicaSense sensors, the company is using vegetation indexes to allow them to track nutrient inputs, identify pest infestations, and visualise mountainous terrain.
Andros Bracamontes, Research & Development Specialist for the Rogers Family Co, said: "Drones are allowing us to precisely map the entire farm on a regular basis and we are now aligning the imagery with our management strategy. We used to have to hike around to monitor the fields, which can be a major challenge in the steep slopes of some of our farms. Now we can monitor by air in a fraction of the time and at an individual plant level.’’
Drone AG Wheat field Management
"Drones effective for monitoring trial plot sites"
Drone AG has been using the DJI Mavic 2 drone, along with drone software packages Pix4Dfields, DroneDeploy, and Skippy Scout, to conduct wheat monitoring.
Jack Wrangham, of Drone AG, said: "Drones can be very effective for monitoring trial plot sites. This is because they can fly low to the crop, getting a high level of detail. Satellite imagery is simply not high enough resolution to see individual plots."
DroneAG used the drone to collect super high-resolution imagery of the plots. The team mapped the plots and flew over the sites at four key times throughout the season to identify early establishment, later crop progress, and possible disease detection.
This regular and precise data capture enabled DroneAG to identify progress and issues, and collect accurate comparisons.
DroneAG used its Skippy Scout software to automate drone flights to capture images close to the crop, with leaf-level detail. This is useful for trials plots, to see what is happening to individual plants.
Nutrien StrawberryPlant Surveys
"The drone helped increase profits"
Nutrien used DJI drones and solutions from SlantRange to improve a client's strawberry season.
The primary aim was to evaluate the crop for nutrient solutions, addressing crop issues as soon as possible and helping the grower realise the best yield possible.
During the process, Nutrien found that a drone was useful for a number of aspects, including precision and speed. Individual leaves on plants became visible using the drone solution, helping to identify pest issues, and resulting in quick preventative measures, while the ability to view data in the field, minutes after flying, was a huge advantage.
By the end of the season, profits had been increased and yields were improved.
Drones Vs Satellites
Which imaging method is best for agriculture?
Drones are more efficient and more effective for farming than manual methods. But how do they compare to satellites?
In truth, both have their advantages, and come down to the specific application.
However, there are certain times when drones have the advantage.
Take cloud cover, for example. Satellite imagery can be severely affected by cloud cover, limiting what can be seen. A drone, on the other hand, can fly closer to the earth, below the cover of cloud, to obtain the data you need.
There's also the issue of satellites flying around the earth within a certain time. If you want immediate data capture, it can be best to deploy a drone.
Because drones can fly closer to the ground, they can collect extremely precise data, taking shots to distinguish a weed or a crop, or show each particular plant. Because of its distance from the earth, a satellite can't capture that level of detail.
However, if high-precision is not a priority, then satellites can have the advantage, especially over big farms where they can cover a larger area.
Thanks to their wide scope, the collected image is complete, eliminating the need for image stitching. In contrast, because drone shots capture smaller areas, image stitching is needed following drone flights.
Another advantage of using satellites is that their records go further back. Thanks to this archive data, you can time travel and build a longer picture of your farm.
But, while the drones versus satellite question is valid, it doesn't always have to be a choice between the two. Rather, using them together can be extremely useful, spotting an initial problem through a satellite and then deploying a drone to hone in on the issue and tackle it precisely and quickly.