South Carolina farmers are geniuses. They are embracing drones on the farm for precision agriculture. Precision agriculture is a method that uses sensor technology and variable rate spraying to specifically apply fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or any other treatments specifically to the areas that need it. Precision agriculture technology can help farmers save large amounts of money in inputs per acre.
Drones fit into the precision agriculture framework in several ways. The most common use is crop health analysis. Farmers use drones equipped with special multispectral sensors to produce maps that show which plants are healthy and which are lagging behind. This data can give farmers insights into plant health up to two weeks ahead of what can be seen with the naked eye.
The data from these maps can help farmers decide which areas to investigate further with soil sampling. It can highlight areas that need a treatment or reveal underlying issues (like bad irrigation flow) before the effects are visible to the human eye. Some farmers even use plant health analysis combined with variable rate spraying to try out different mixes of chemical or fertilizer in different areas and track growth differences over time.
The next way South Carolina farmers are using drones on the farm is for mapping. Many farmers need updated site maps that reflect current conditions. They may have new buildings or barns, or they may add or move a fence line. These up-to-date sitemaps help farmers coordinate with workers and keep the operation going smoothly.
Experienced drone pilots can also use drones to build topographic maps that represent site conditions including grade and water flows. This is most useful for farmers in the off-season. Understanding the way that water naturally flows across a field (especially when combined with yield information from the previous year) can help farmers plan adjustments to irrigation systems.
Spraying is another exciting use for drones on the farm. This new method is just breaking into South Carolina. We are one of the only companies in the state using this technology. Farmers here are able to use our spraying drones to apply the same products they are already using, just at times and in places they normally couldn’t before.
Drones can get to places that tractors just can’t. Drones can treat even if the ground is too wet to drive a tractor. They can apply product right up to the edges of a field (unlike other aircraft that always miss large sections due to their flight paths).
The most exciting way that spray drones can be used on the farm is variable rate and spot spraying. When farmers use spray drones in a precision agriculture application, they use a plant health index to create a spot spraying map. Spraying drones can take this map, including variable rate information, and use it to specifically target areas needing treatment. This is particularly exciting for orchards. Chemicals or organics can be specifically applied to only the trees that need to be sprayed. This saves farmers money, uses less product, and reduces the farms environmental impact.
Farmers keep a close eye on their crops. Crop scouting is how farmers keep an eye on crop performance and pest pressure. Depending on the size of the operation, crop scouting can be a huge task. Farmers use drones to reduce the amount of legwork needed for crop scouting. Farmers can do stand counts, note emergence issues, and even measure plant size from drone imagery. Drones can take detailed imagery down to the leaf level to identify crop disease and pest damage.
Multispectral imaging isolates out the colors of light that healthy plants reflect in order to get better information on plant health. Combining multispectral imaging with detailed, leaf level images can let farmers quickly identify problem areas and then zoom in to identify the source of the problem. This technology does not fully replace boots-on-the-ground, but it can give the farmer tools to get better information on their fields faster than ever before.
Drones can be used to monitor and track horses and cattle as well. The information gathered by drones can show where animals are and what types of behavior they exhibit. Drones can even be used to estimate animal size.
Pasture fertilization and insect control are other important applications of drone technology for horses and cattle. Certain types of weeds can be poisonous to grazing animals. Drones can help identify problem areas the farmer might miss otherwise. Spray drones can then treat those areas, or broadcast insecticide (ex. Fire ant bait) over an entire pasture.
How can we help?
At Aero Ag we are experts in using drones on the farm. We can manage the full spectrum of drone services from precision agriculture, to topographic mapping, to drone spraying. Our primary mission is variable rate spraying and precision agriculture. Many farmers are also interested in purchasing drones to use in their operation. We offer consulting services to help you incorporate drones into your farm.
Book a free demonstration so we can show you what we do.