The scope for drone use in farming is varied. The EU commission has identified several potential areas for drone use, including soil and field analysis, crop monitoring, health assessment, irrigation, crop spraying, aerial planting, animal husbandry and general inspection and survey work to identify irrigation issues that may affect crop viability and growth. 

Practical case studies with drones are already showing the savings that can be achieved. Scroll down the page to see an examples of using a drones to in animal husbandry.

The following images are from a study conducted by a potato grower to determine the yield, after heavy rainfall, of two different types of potato.

The red areas (circled) show parts of the field that will not produce useable potatoes whereas the yellow areas should still produce.

This map showed the farmer that the the northern section of potatoes had resisted the large amount of rainfall much more efficiently than the southern section.

Zooming in another level, the grower was alerted to an additional issue — the planting machine had malfunctioned.

The horizontal red stripes in the map are sections that show how,  his planting machine had

malfunctioned in those areas:

Upon zooming all the way in to the map, levels of detail were revealed that would never have been seen unless the farmer went out and examined the entire field on foot himself.

Even more alarming than the fairly obvious planter malfunction above ; its settings were miscalibrated which negatively affected the consistency of planted potatoes for each row of potatoes on the entire field.

Further analysis showed the farmer had lost 27% of his crop ( around 40 acres) to rain at a cost of 

£120k.

By using a drone to map his field, the farmer saved at around 70 hours of his own time that he would have wasted going by foot to scout his crop,  and he still wouldn't have the full picture.

Drone technology can drastically reduce herding time. Sheep farmers describe how flying drones had made the dirty and sometimes dangerous work of tending to sheep so much easier and more efficient - in winter, it’s ideal for flying drones if sitting at home on a cold day, and you don't want to go outside.Using a drone makes it easy to check the sheep are all OK and contained.

During lambing, its easy to check up on the ewes, and using the zoom function on the drone camera, you don't have to get close and can avoid disturbing the ewe. The drone can also be deployed to move stock and to check water and feed levels. It can even be programmed to sound a dog bark at sheep to get them going.

Not only can the drone be used to make herding more efficient, but flying a drone overhead prevents farm dogs from receiving a kicking from startled cows – particularly mothers protective of their calves. A team from Harper Adams University carried out tests for rounding up sheep for their daily feed on a small farm in Shropshire. Because the sheep quickly became accustomed to the drone “barking” at them, and because they quickly learned that actually the mysterious flying object wasn’t actually going to cause any harm, the herd was “trained” to associate the sound of the drone with feed time to positively reinforce feeding behavior.

In the bovine world, cattle farmers herd cattle with drones fitted with thermal and visual cameras to enable them to spot cattle both on open pastures and when beneath forest canopies. They can also deploy the drone to perform herd counts and thermal imaging can also be used to spot nearby predators and rustlers.

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