A simple overview of how drones are used in the
farming industry to provide aerial imagery to create NDVI maps to
improve crop yields, reduce farming costs, protect the environment and
quantify crop damage insurance claims
The FAA recognizes that drones are essential to
increasing the productivity of farmlands. Small drones pose a limited
risk of injuring people, other aircraft, and property. Thus FAA approval
to use drones for farming is coming soon.
Probable FAA policies will revolve around
safety, primarily collision avoidance.
- Daylight operation
- LOS (Line of Sight) Operation
- 400' Ceiling
- Various safety devices, pilot and aircraft
certifications, training, safety protocols, etc.
Agronomists using drones to assist their
recommendations for fertilizer and pesticide application can improve the
bottom line to farmers by as much as 15%, and help the environment as
The world's farmers must increase yields to
feed the world's rapidly growing population. Drones are the latest
technological advancement to assist in increasing crop yields while
lowering pollution and costs.
Large fields and tall crops are extremely
difficult to assess from the ground. Drones provide aerial access at a
relatively low cost.
Agronomists operate the drones themselves or
hire local drone service providers to fly the fields.
Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI)
is an extremely important tool to determine if crops are stressed. NDVI
compares bands of light to accurately determine plant stress. This is
state of the art technology. Wikipedia explains NDVI in detail.
Photos directly from the onboard NDVI
compatible camera are unusable as is. The photos must undergo special
First, individual photos are stitched together
to make one large photo. Online processors are used for this operation
due to the high cost and complexity of the hardware and software.
The high quality single image is converted to a
NDVI image. NDVI processing software is inexpensive and easy to use
though the same online processors who stitched the photos offer this
The agronomist uses both the normal and the
NDVI images with more traditional methods to assess plant stress.
Plant stress can be detected well before it can
be seen with the naked eye as well as after obvious damage is apparent.
The agronomist then performs "ground truthing"
combined with other traditional methods to verify the NDVI data and
determine the cause of the stress. Often the agronomist physically walks
into the field and looks at the plants where the NDVI has identified
The agronomist then makes recommendations to
the farmer. If variable rate applicators are used by the farmer, then
varying rates of fertilizer and pesticides are recommended which reduce
treatment costs, protect the environment by reducing unnecessary
over-applications, and increase yields.
The three photos below are all derived from only one camera. While
you see a low resolution image here, the resolution of the actual photo
is high enough to see individual blades of grass! The agronomist saves
time because if bare earth, standing water or another obvious problem is
identified using the image there is no need to walk the field. The sod
farmer in this case uses this data to identify excessively large bare
spots early on in the growing cycle to replant problem areas and improve
yield per acre.