Agronomists, farmers, drone manufacturers and UAV pilots gathered at this years Drones for Farming Conference to discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with the technology. Abby Kellett reports.
With the worldwide agricultural drone market expected to reach £3.21 billion by 2022, it is no surprise about 38 per cent of agricultural retailers say they will be offering some sort of UAV service by the end of 2018.
But is the technology just a short-term fad, or the future of on-farm data gathering? Experts at the conference, held at Harper Adams University, Shropshire, emphasised the need to improve the practicality of using drones and drone data if growers are to get the most out of the technology.
Matteo Triacca, director of product and solutions at senseFly, highlighted areas in need of improvement. He said: “In order to make drone data actionable and fast, we need a processing engine which can compress huge amounts of data in order to increase the speed at which growers gather information and receive an appropriate output.
“It is the duty of drone manufacturers and research bodies to provide proven evidence to show the potential return on investment farmers can expect to achieve. If we are able to demonstrate the value of drones, more funds can be generated to develop the technology further.”
A recent Hutchinsons survey revealed 82 per cent of respondents said they used some form of precision farming software. The remainder did not as they either considered the costs were too high, they struggled to understand the technology, or they felt the data was too much to manage.
Jim Wilson, director of Soils Essentials, said managing the abundance of farm data being gathered is of huge importance going forward.
“Farming is so complex and there are so many variables which need to be taken into account when making a management decision: soil texture, crop type, weather and plant distribution, not to mention politics and legislation. So if we are to integrate the use of drones into our management systems, we need to be able to integrate all this in an efficient and reliable way.”
Source: Adapted from Matteo Triacca, director of product and solutions at senseFly
Although drones were capable of identifying individual plants in a field, application technologies, including sprayers and fertiliser spreaders, were limited by how accurately inputs could be applied, with many growers applying pesticides using a 32m sprayer boom for example.
Mr Wilson said: “Any technology which can deliver a resolution of 5cm or less is a luxury as we do not have commercial applicators which can address this scale.
Multispectral satellite images which are taken daily can now deliver a resolution of 3.1 metres, which is more than adequate. However, when applicators become more advanced, the use of drones will be much more beneficial.”
While drone technology has a potentially exciting future, it is important operators abide by the rules and regulations set by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to keep this technology available to the industry, said Matt Williams, founder of Aerial Motion Pictures.
The most recent regulations states those who fly drones for commercial gain, must obtain permission from the CAA.