Articles

Publish at April 27 2022 Updated May 03 2022

The agricultural drone is coming: endurance, intelligence and precision required

Efficiency, speed, economy and environment

Agricultural drone on a slope

Tilling large agricultural areas is a complex challenge and each intervention on hundreds of hectares involves significant costs: soil preparation and amendment, seeding, insect and weed control, monitoring, etc. The smallest decision is worth thousands of €$.

The operating costs of ground machinery as much in energy and inputs as in labor make some interventions unprofitable, such as those involving only small areas and not the entire field or plantation. The preparation of the equipment, its transportation to the area, the operation, the return, the maintenance and the cleaning... these operations take time and make sure that only large-scale activities are carried out. When an area is affected by frost or drought and should be reseeded or treated, why mobilize large equipment for small and scattered areas?

The impression of uniformity of large areas is an illusion: some areas are better drained than others, some are more exposed than others, and many interventions should be specific to each field or plantation plot.

When, on top of that, there is a lack of manpower... we sometimes make the choice to abandon certain crops to their fate.

Agricultural drone to the rescue

Agricultural drone piloting is growing rapidly.

For spreading seeds, soil amendments or bio-pesticides they are highly effective because they can specifically tailor the amounts spread to each area and ensure uniform dispersion. They can be deployed quickly and can currently treat from 1 to 2 hectares per flight, up to a dozen per hour. A hectare represents an area of 100 meters by 100 meters.  As the payload capacity of the drones is limited, we are talking about 20 to 30 kilos, the drone must return often to its base to be resupplied.

For fruit tree plantations, their advantage is even greater because the control is done from the air and not from the ground and makes plantations on steep slopes more accessible.

For monitoring crops, the drone deploys all its possibilities: with various positioning sensors, lidars and cameras, UV, infrared and filters, it can draw a detailed picture of the fields in terms of moisture, infestation, disease, vegetation index, density or ripening. From the data, the farmer can then plan different interventions and even transfer this data to his spreader drones for specific interventions. The drone can be deployed on demand, quickly and as needed.

A balance of costs

The purchase of an agricultural drone system and its operation amounts to tens of thousands of euros or dollar. A tractor and its equipment is no less expensive. Although the operating costs are quite different in nature, they are comparable in the end.

Where the main gains lie is in the quantities of products applied and the precision of the interventions. Why put it everywhere when only certain areas need it? For the environment, we're talking about a significant improvement in addition to net savings in inputs. The other part of the gain is the optimization of the cultivated areas. Where some areas were abandoned or had low yields, they can now be subject to specific interventions. We're sometimes talking about significant portions of fields.

A workforce to be developed

Currently drone pilots are mostly trained for observation and competition. Intelligently seeding dozens of acres of field may not be as exhilarating as a competition in the forest, but perhaps more satisfying at the end of the day. As for making a living out of it, why not? Agriculture needs arms... and heads. Collating and interpreting observational data and translating it into appropriate actions requires attention and intelligence.

As agricultural drones are heavy (15 to 30 Kg), they require drone pilot certification in most national jurisdictions. There are several drone pilot training courses but only a few schools offer them specifically dedicated to the agricultural field, where performance and speed of operation matter perhaps more than elsewhere given the areas to be covered.

There is clearly a need for some training on specific equipment; the market will definitely grow even more and evolve towards professionalization. Already the number of "Agricultural Drone Pilot" positions on job boards is surprising and the agricultural distribution companies have clearly identified the potential as well.

The job of an agricultural drone pilot is one of endurance, intelligence and precision. You have to see yourself in the long run and in the vastness of the spaces to be covered and covered.

Some agricultural drone videos







References

Civil drone professional federation
https://fpdc.fr/

Training

Drone expert - Precision agriculture - Quebec
https://www.dronexperts.com/blogs/all/tout-savoir-sur-le-drone-en-agriculture-de-precision

TelePilot - Agricultural Drone - France
https://www.telepilote.org/training-drone-certifying-dgac-eligible-for-cpf/our-drone-training/training-drone-agriculture.html

EF Drone - Agricultural Drone Training - France
https://www.ef-drone.com/nos-formations/agricole/

Clin -Agricultural Drone Piloting - Togo
https://www.clin.tg/formation-detail?id=f3a378797d

Enac - Drones - https://www.enac.fr/fr/recherche/resultat?search_api_fulltext=drones&op=Search

AgroCentre  - https://www.agrocentre.qc.ca/precision-agriculture


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