27 Jun, 2024 / BY Neil Sharp

7 ways agricultural drones are supporting precision farming

7 ways agricultural drones are supporting precision farming | ESCATEC

The rapid evolution of drone technology in recent years has helped to bring in a new era of precision farming. These Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) enhance many aspects of modern farming through improved efficiency, precision and data collection.

This data-driven approach avoids guesswork, allowing farmers to make informed decisions that maximise productivity while minimising waste and environmental impact.

But what exactly is precision farming and how do drones contribute to it? This blog answers these questions and highlights the importance of collaboration between specialised contract manufacturers and OEMs for the production of drones.

What is precision farming?

Precision farming is based on “observing, measuring and responding to inter- and intra-field variability in crops”. This is achieved by using modern technology (such as drones, robots and sensors) to gather real-time data about crops, soil, air etc, which is then analysed to ensure optimal growing conditions for crops – for example, in terms of irrigation, fertiliser application, and weed and pest control.

The end result is that yields are maximised without compromising on sustainability or protection of the environment. And this is likely to only get more important as agricultural production is ramped up to meet increasing demand, while also being mindful of its environmental impacts – from climate change and pollution, to land conversion and water consumption.


How are agricultural drones used in precision farming?

Within the precision farming boom, drones are one of the most important pieces of equipment 
that are available to farmers. Here are seven of the key ways that drones are used in modern agriculture:


1. Soil and field analysis

Drones equipped with sensors and imaging technologies can provide detailed 3D maps of farms, allowing for very precise analysis of soil health. This data helps farmers make informed decisions about the distribution of seeds, water, fertilisers and pesticides, which optimises resources and increases yields.


2. Crop monitoring and health assessment

Drones can monitor crop health over large areas quickly, identifying issues like nutrient deficiencies, water stress and disease outbreaks. With advanced imaging from multispectral sensors or thermal cameras, drones can detect problems before they become visible to the naked eye.


3. Irrigation management

Drones equipped with thermal imaging can assess water distribution and soil moisture levels across fields. This information is crucial for ensuring the efficient use of water only when and where it is needed, as well as identifying the need for additional drainage (too much or too little water can both be detrimental to crop yields).


4. Spraying and seeding

Drone spraying of pesticides and herbicides, allow for targeted application, reducing both chemical usage and environmental impact. These chemicals can also be hazardous to human health, so moving the farmer further away from the aerial spraying is beneficial. Some drones are also capable of planting seeds, which can be particularly useful in hard-to-reach areas or 
where planting is labour intensive.



5. Livestock management

Drones are used to monitor animal health and movements, check for predators, and even assist in herding. This aerial perspective can save time and improve the safety of both the animals and farm workers.


6. Damage assessment

After events like storms, floods or pest infestation events, drones can quickly assess damage to crops and infrastructure, which helps in the recovery phase. This assessment is also important in the event of an insurance claim, helping to speed up the process and ensure that all loses are accurately identified.


7. Troubleshooting

The list of potential problems that might arise on a rural farm is almost endless – from vandalism and theft of equipment, to trespassing, illegal dumping of waste and a worker going missing somewhere on the property. The speedy deployment of a drone provides the farmer with an ‘eye in the sky’, which is often a sufficient deterrent for criminal behaviour and can also be priceless in the event of a search and rescue.  On huge farming states such as those in North America and Australia, drones are becoming essential, every day management tools.

Drones are for every farmer, large or small

As time goes on, it’s highly likely that even more applications for drones will be discovered within farming. Just like many other industrial sectors, technology for farming is advancing at a rapid rate and so there is a constant need for famers to keep up to date. Getting left behind really isn’t an option if you want to remain competitive and in business.

But this doesn’t only apply to large multinational agribusinesses. Even for some of the smaller cooperative or family farming businesses, drones can be used on a small scale to increase efficiency and productivity. This means that small farmers can also benefit from the agile and cost-effective services that drones provide, enabling early decision-making to respond to problems.

In the past, satellite data has often been used for this purpose, but there isn’t always sufficient coverage in the Global South – where there are lots of smallholdings – and satellites are also hindered by cloud cover. The use of farming drones overcomes both of these issues.

However, it should be added that satellites can be useful for monitoring large areas where high precision isn’t so important. Also, there are records of satellite data going back many years, which can show long-term trends. So, combining both of these data sources is sometimes appropriate.

Sensor tech: vital for drones

A final important point is that the use of drones in precision agriculture wouldn’t be possible without the development of lightweight and miniature components. Some of the biggest developments in recent years have been in optimising sensors, such as multispectral camera technology, biosensors, and temperature and humidity sensors.

This has only been possible through collaboration between contract manufacturers and OEMs. Outsourcing in this way provides OEMs with skills and expertise that they might not possess themselves. So, it’s vital that OEMs find the right manufacturing partners who they can team up with to take drone technology to the next level.

Drones are likely to become increasingly important

Drones provide traditional agricultural services, such as mapping and crop spraying, in a much more agile and cost-effective way. The dynamic real-time data that is collected helps farmers to plan, monitor and manage crop production in the most efficient way possible, to maximise yield while also safeguarding the environment.

And as the agriculture drones market develops and becomes more accessible, the integration of the technology into farming practices around the world is expected to deepen further, providing even greater scope for sustainable improvements in productivity.

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Written by Neil Sharp

Neil has over 25 years’ experience in Electronics Manufacturing Services and Component Distribution. During his career, Neil has held a range of leadership positions in sales, marketing, and customer service. Neil is currently part of the ESCATEC Senior Management Team and is responsible for setting and delivering the overall Group Marketing strategy. Neil heads up the marketing department and is responsible for both the strategy and the implementation of innovative marketing campaigns designed to deliver high quality content to those seeking outsourcing solutions.