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 The technology industry is one of fastest growing industries in the world and so there is a pressing need for innovation. We are experiencing very exciting times, the staggering amount of new technology being invented every day also increases the demand, and it makes a lot of businesses obsolete. So there is a growing demand for innovation and the need to stay ahead of the game.

Table of content.

- Applications of drones in agriculture.

- Brief history of Drone use.

- Environmental Sustainability.

- Social Sustainability.

- Economic Sustainability.

- Pros and Cons of drones in Agriculture.

- Conclusion.

- References.

Applications of drones in agriculture

Drones are quickly moving from the battlefield to the farmer’s field on the verge of helping growers oversee millions of acres throughout rural America and saving them big money in the process. Among technologies such as jeeps that originated in the military, drone technology has many potential civilian applications especially in the agriculture industry.  Although farmers could buy their own drones, most are expected to hire companies that specialize in this niche market. A major reason to hire someone instead of buying is the extensive training needed to operate the costly piece of machinery and the complexity of flying it. [Some people have concerns about their use, but the technology is beneficial and can ultimately save farmers time and money]. Drone applications in agriculture include;

- Identify pests, disease & weeds.

- Collect tissue tests for fertility & disease issues.

- Collect soil samples for soil, fertility, pH & pest issues.

- Dig up plants; inspect root structure for signs of compaction, depth, disease & pests.

- Measure erosion channel width & depth.

- Note machine issues & other visual defects.

- Count plants & determine population / spacing issues.

- Conduct exploratory excavation to determine drainage tile, depth, size & location.

Precision farming

Farmers can also tailor drones towards the application of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer and other applications based on how much is needed at a specific point in a field in a process known as precision agriculture reducing and possibly even preventing the runoff that end up flowing into nearby rivers and streams.


UAV’s will a big part in gathering the raw information that will be used to solve the big data issue. Drones have computers similar to those used in smartphones and can make flights of about 10 to 15 minutes. While the standard pictures and video are very helpful, researchers are looking to use imagery in other wavelengths, such as near-infrared, to identify areas of crop stress. Infrared Lighting gives farmers 3 types of detailed views concerning; Irrigation problems, Soil variation and even pest & fungal infestations that are invisible at eye level “Crop health imaging”. From the ability to image, recreate, and analyze individual leaves on a soybean plant from 400 feet, to getting information on the water-holding capacity of soil, to variable-rate water applications. They take "Multi-spectral Images" with hundreds of acres covered in a single shot, it transforms the shot into one large "Ortho-mosaic" image which part of the “Integrated GIS mapping” process. Apply algorithms like normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and you create a reflectant map of your crop field which highlights which areas of your crops need more attention. Bad weather conditions make it difficult to make proper surveillance, the solution lies with UAV use. The question is whether flocks of UAVs are a better alternative to a manned double engine? Much of the data that growers need to improve their decision-making can be made available with the right spectroscopy tools. The human eye can only detect a fraction of the information about an object that can be measured remotely. With properly calibrated imaging tools the difference between healthy and stressed plants can clearly be differentiated in bands beyond the visible spectrum. Today, satellites, manned planes and walking the field are the main ways farmers monitor their crops. But these methods often can be incomplete or time consuming, and when data is collected it can take a long time to process and analyze. As a result, it can be difficult or impossible for the farmer to react to a problem like a disease outbreak before it is too late or the costs to treat it have soared. Researchers say interest is growing in the use of drones in agriculture and that the unmanned aerial vehicles can give farmers a bird’s eye view of their fields.

Possible future Applications

[Commercial drone use projections for the year 2015 don’t look very optimistic for a few reasons. Commodity prices are half of they used to be in 2012 farmers won’t pay for unproven technology. While much of the attention regarding drones has focused recently on Amazon and UPS seeking to use them to deliver packages, much of the future for drones is expected to come on the farm. That’s because agriculture operations span large distances and are mostly free of privacy and safety concerns that have dogged the use of these aerial high-fliers in more heavily populated areas.]  

[The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, the trade group that represents producers and users of drones and other robotic equipment, predicts that 80% of the commercial market for drones will eventually be for agricultural uses.] 

[The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) forbids farmers from using the information gathered from the infrared camera. Regulation does not permit drones to be used for profit making purposes only technically for hobbyists. FAA is in the process of working towards establishing a “small unmanned aircraft (SUA) rule” that will allow for wider commercial drone use. In December the FAA granted commercial exemptions to several companies, which use drones for aerial surveying, construction site monitoring and oil rig flare stack inspections. For now, farmers can only use a fraction of the potential of aerial drones. Farmers pay for the drone service in the hopes that one day they will be able to put it to use legally. The government is preventing them from using drone which they could learn more about their farm from.] 

Creation of rain 

A process known as cloud-seeding. In California, it is becoming a viable option to combat long-term water shortages. [The DRI is currently testing plans for a new cloud seeding program...with the goal of delivering the most effective dose of silver iodide to the clouds with the greatest precipitation potential, wherever they may be.]  

Cattle Herd Monitoring

Drones are a solid option for monitoring herds from overhead, tracking the quantity and activity level of animals on large scale property and are especially helpful for monitoring large herds at night due to factors such as the human eye’s limited visibility in the dark. 

Brief History of Drone Technology 

Early Development of Drone Technology
A large amount of attention has been placed on drones and their evident capabilities to influence the productivity and efficiency of agriculture in North America. Although the hype of drone use in agriculture is currently a hot topic and a seemingly advanced addition to the sector, it’s interesting to find out that drone technology has actually been around for nearly a century. Initially developed with the intent to take down enemy Zepplins, the first drone design was developed in 1916. Although this drone did not actually take flight, modifications and differing intended uses continued to spark the advancements to several models of drones during the WWI-WWII period.

Modern-Day Drones in Agriculture
For modern-day drones, agriculture is a promising industry for adoption. Despite the demand for drones however, access to use this technology isn’t easy. Drone use is highly regulated, as privacy and safety are a main concern of governments. However the increasing numbers of producers and agronomists adopting drone technology is forcing legislature to adapt alongside them. The first permit to use a drone for agricultural purposes issued by the Federal Aviation Administration of America was in January of 2015. These permits seem to be one of the only roadblocks in the way of drone technology becoming a new norm in agriculture.
The Ruston Proctor Aerial Target (1916) was one 
of the first UAV's ever designed for military use.

Typical drone used in modern-day agriculture.


Environmental Sustainability

Drones could have a huge effect on improving environmental sustainability in the coming years in multiple areas of agriculture. One of them, is that drones are being equipped with multi-spectral cameras that can take several different types of pictures of the field and even overlay these pictures to create very valuable information for the farmer during the growing seasons. These pictures provide a range of information from plant health to soil conditions. While a crop is growing, the drone could detect a stressed area of the field; this stress could be from insects, disease, lack of fertilizer or others. Instead of the farmer treating the whole field for the issue, a farmer could use the maps to variable spray the solution onto the crops to solve the problem. This would decrease the farmer’s inputs on such things as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, lowering their input costs and reducing stress on the environment. The use of drones to check fields or any other day to day observation tasks could be done by a drone, allowing the farmer to remain in one place, reducing his travel and fuel consumption.

The last couple of years California has experienced a very deadly drought, severely damaging the natural vegetation and crops of the state. Trials and testing have been done using drones to fly up into the clouds and conduct cloud seeding, a scientific way of increasing precipitation in clouds to lead to rain. The use of drones to do this method has sparked much interest as they can complete the process easier than traditional methods.  In, summary, the use of drones has great potential to improve environmental conditions all around it and especially agriculture sectors. The use of drones could reduce inputs and increase outputs in almost every way it us used and reduce current strains upon the environment.

Economic Sustainability

The change in economics is constantly changing with the increasing advancement of technology. According to many agricultural specialists, 2015 is the start of something special for the Agriculture industry. 2015 is the start of the drone era for agriculture, and the projections on the agriculture economy look positive. Some analysts project a huge jump in the economy as well as an increase in jobs added. According to a recent survey by the AUVSI, the Agriculture sector is the largest market for the drone market accounting for 80% of all commercial use. The study also mentions that the total economic impact on agriculture spending on drones in Kansas, is projected to reach over $75 million with 772 job created in 2015. The same study by AUVSI also estimated that the economic effect of allowing agricultural drones into the national airspace would be above $2.3 billion dollars and would create 12,000 jobs in California. The AUVSI just recently published a report that estimates that drones could have a cumulative $82 billion economic impact on the USA between 2015 and 2025. There are conflicting reports that between 80% and 92% of the commercial drone economy are from agricultural use. This means that drone use could give the agricultural economy a boost from between $65.6 Billion to $75.44 Billion in the next ten years. The inclusion of drones for agricultural uses will help sustain and improve the agricultural economy for years to come.

Estimated Spend and Economic Impact of Commercial UAVs: Next Decade
Source: Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI)

AUVSI Economic projection for Kansas (Assuming F.A.A. regulations are in place)

Social Sustainability 

Drones in agriculture have many positive as well as negative impacts on social issues.  Though drones could create a very self-sufficient family farm, giving producers more control and information on their crops, it could give more control to big agriculture companies.  Currently the use of drones is not creating many solutions or problems, but in the future more social issues could arise.  Many large agriculture companies could, with the use of drones, completely eliminate the family farm.  If drones are able to monitor every aspect of a crop, there is no need for human intervention; unless there are stressed areas that need to be attended too.  Conversely it will save product as well as money to not treat a whole crop when only certain areas need it.

Although many jobs could potentially be created in order to create a basis for working drones, some jobs may be lost as well.  As drones advance in precision agriculture, many jobs will be created.  Programs will need to be developed in order for producers to use the drones effectively, the drones themselves will need to be built, and people will need to be hired to teach farmers how to use them, or be available for hire to operate the drones.  As the technology develops in the future, it will be interesting to see what aspects of drones are issues and what aspects are solutions.

Pro's and Con's of Drone Use in Agriculture 

Increased Efficiency
Compared to scouting fields on foot, drones allow for a much faster way to monitor crops and collect agronomic data. Drones are also capable of detecting harmful problems such as weeds, pests and fungus, and applying chemical to individual problem areas before they get out of control in the rest of the crop. This advantage will potentially lead to less chemical use in the future, saving producer’s time and money. In addition, drones allow producers to know exact details on individual plants, which is virtually unthinkable with current technology. The fact that crop scouting can essentially be accomplished by an unmanned vehicle mitigates the need for agronomists and producers to walk through individual fields, reducing labour costs and enhancing efficiency in agriculture immensely.

Current drone regulations are put in place mainly to ensure privacy and safety in the highly concentrated urban areas. However, the advantage of using drones in agriculture comes from the low concentrations of people scattered throughout rural areas, and thus lower potential concern for safety and privacy issues. There are fewer regulations for drones that fly over private land, which makes the process of using a drone much simpler in rural areas.

The cost of acquiring a drone can be up to several thousand dollars for the producer, with the cheapest option costing roughly $2,000. In addition to the cost of owning the drone, training is another mandatory expense that producers must incur if they want to operate the drone themselves.

Uncertainties of Legislation
The current uncertainty of legislation makes it difficult for producers to know the exact restrictions that they face when using drones.


In conclusion, Drones clearly have a strong potential in many sectors of agriculture. There are some obstacles in front of them that need to be cleared before its full potential can be grasped, but the future is bright for drones. 


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