India is primarily an agrarian economy. Agriculture remains the chief source of income for the majority of the rural households. India’s economy is also heavily dependent on the agricultural produce that constitutes a major portion of its exports as well. However, despite mounting importance of agriculture, the sector is still far behind in technological advancements. Crop failure due to adverse weather conditions and uncontrolled pests issues have been the key contributors to this scenario. Moreover, Indian farmers are even now dependent on monsoon rains for irrigation and use age-old methods for other farming practices. Hence, the quality and quantity of agricultural produce is sometimes compromised in spite of the relentless efforts of farmers.
Fortunately, there is hope. What if crop failure could be detected in advance, and necessary steps could be taken? Can there be a juxtaposition of traditional farming methods and innovative solutions like agri-drones to tackle the problems ailing the agricultural sector in India? Can drones become major players in the area of crop surveillance, thus leading to better chances of failure mitigation? We will explore all these opportunities in this article and try to see what the future has in store.
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (also known as UAVs), which are used for surveillance in various industries. Till now, they were primarily used by companies working in industrial sectors such as mining and construction, army, and hobbyists. But now, drone technology is increasingly available for use in various sectors of agriculture as well. Though the technology is still nascent in India, many companies are trying so that it is easily available to Indian farmers and ready to be used to increase efficiency in agricultural production.
The use of drone technology in agriculture is here to stay. According to recent research, the global drone market within agriculture would grow at 35.9% CAGR and reach $5.7 billion by 2025. This emerging technology can help reduce time and increase the efficiencies of the farmers. The use of drones in the agricultural sector is only expected to rise as the industry matures, and so it is good to know how to use this technology judiciously.
For efficient field planning, agricultural drones can be used for soil and field analysis. They can be used to mount sensors to evaluate moisture content in the soil, terrain conditions, soil conditions, soil erosion, nutrients content, and fertility of the soil.
Crop surveillance is the supervision of crop progress from the time seeds are sown to the time for harvest. This includes providing fertilizers at the right time, checking for pest attack, and monitoring the effect of weather conditions. Crop surveillance is the only way that a farmer can ensure a timely harvest, especially when dealing with seasonal crops. Any errors at this stage can result in crop failure. Crop surveillance helps in understanding and planning for the next farming season. Drones can help in effective crop surveillance by inspecting the field with infrared cameras and based on their real-time information, farmers can take active measures to improve the condition of plants in the field.
Drones can help in planting trees and crops, which was done by farmers before. This technology will not only save labor but also help in saving fuels. Soon, it is expected that budget-friendly drones will be used instead of huge tractors, as they emit harmful gases and pollute the environment in the process.
Drones can be used to monitor and manage huge livestock as their sensors have high-resolution infrared cameras, which can detect a sick animal and swiftly take actions accordingly. So, the impact of drones on precision dairy farming is soon to become a new normal.
Agri-drones can be used to spray chemicals as they have reservoirs, which can be filled with fertilizers and pesticides for spraying on crops in very little time, as compared to traditional methods. Thus, drone technology can usher in a new era for precision agriculture.
Farming is a large-scale activity that takes place over acres of land. Constant surveys are necessary to monitor the health of the soil and the crop that has been planted. Manually, this may take days, and even then, there is space for human error. Drones can do the same job in a matter of hours. With infrared mapping, drones can gather information about both the health of the soil and the crop.
Drones can prove to be especially effective in reducing the overuse of pesticides, insecticides, and other chemicals. These chemicals indeed help to protect the crop. But, their overuse can prove to be detrimental. Drones can detect minute signs of pest attacks, and provide accurate data regarding the degree and range of the attack. This can help farmers calculate the required amount of chemicals to be used that would only protect the crops rather than harming them.
Weather conditions can prove to be a farmer’s best friend and worst enemy. Since these cannot be accurately predicted, it becomes extremely difficult to prepare for any shift in patterns. Drones can be used to detect upcoming weather conditions. Storm drones are already being used to make better predictions. And this information can be used by farmers to be better prepared. Advance notice of storms or lack of rain can be used to plan the crop to be planted that would be best suited to the season, and how to take care of planted crops at a later stage
Even when everything is going according to plan, crops need to be surveyed and monitored to ensure that the right amount of yield will be available at the time of harvest. It is also important for future planning, whether it is about determining the right price for the open market, or harvesting cyclical crops. Drones can provide accurate data about every stage of crop growth, and report any variations before they become a crisis. Multispectral images can also provide accurate information about subtle differences between healthy and unhealthy crops that may be missed by the naked eye. For example, stressed crops will reflect less near-infrared light as compared to healthy crops. This difference cannot be detected by the human eye always. But drones can provide this information in the early stages
The thermal cameras installed over drones can easily detect animals or human beings. So, drones can guard the fields from external damage caused by animals, especially at night.
Drones have some limitations alongside their benefits.
A lot of drone-based agricultural projects are undergoing in India. Consider the following real-life scenarios:
Looking further into the future, drone technology is going to change the agriculture sector. Many Indian startups are also showing interest in the industry and aiming to invest in low-cost drones, which can help farmers and simultaneously create employment opportunities for the rural youth and enhance the knowledge of farmers as well.
However, the industry needs mature reforms, keeping in mind the growing population, the needs of the farmers, operational policies, and the shrinking farmlands. Moreover, trained pilots are needed to take forward the still untapped drone market. Our farmers and drone operators are the harbingers of change. Overall, it would be interesting to see how things go ahead, and how useful the applications of drones turn out to be in the long run.