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Drone technology is a phenomenal innovation, which continues to have far-reaching effects across today's society, transforming our lives in both business and leisure. During this blog, we'll analyze the recent surge of agricultural drones, to include their advantages and disadvantages.

The agricultural industry seems to have embraced drone technology with open arms, using these advanced tools to transform modern farming. By the application of drone technology, the farming sector can save time, increase crop yields and make wise land use decisions. The farmers of today are faced with a number of factors which influence their operations, such as changes in climate, growing seasons, wind, soil quality, as well as the presence of weeds and insects. Drone technology enables farmers to remedy these problems in a timely and efficient manner. Drones can also be used to provide data about weather, effects of soil nutrients, crop yields and livestock health.

There are currently six primary roles played by agricultural drones; seed planting, soil and field analysis, crop and spot spraying, crop mapping and surveying, irrigation monitoring and real-time livestock monitoring. Though drone planting is perhaps the newest technology, a number of companies are now experimenting with it. The most widely used system is one which shoots seed pods into prepared soil. Several recently formed drone companies have developed technologies applicable to a variety of land use problems. One drone just entering production has the capability to carry a payload in excess of fifty pounds, which can be modified to deliver seeds, fertilizer and water as needed. Soil and field analysis by drones enable farmers to collect useful data about the quality of existing soil. By providing three dimensional maps of the soil, drones enable farmers to effectively manage water resources, nutrient levels and overall soil management. Another advantage of drone technology is the advantage it offers farmers to obtain both time-based animation and real-time footage to detect changes in the soil. Crops require constant fertilization and treatment in order to maintain high yields. In the past, this was done by vehicle, plane, or even manually. Such methods were both costly and ineffective at times. However, drones can be equipped with large reservoirs to allow spraying a field with multiple products, if necessary. Compared with the cost of an aircraft or vehicle performing the same function, the cost of operating a drone is less than ten per cent of the two previous methods. Because of both their electronics and small size, drones are also safer and more efficient than a vehicle or aircraft. One of the advantages of ag drones is their ability to survey and monitor large scale crops and acreages. Though both aircraft and satellite images are available to the farmer, drone images are more detailed at a much lower cost. With drone mapping and surveying, technology decisions can now be made on real-time data, not outdated imagery or best-practice guesswork. Drones equipped with thermal image cameras are able to spot areas receiving too little or too much drainage, enabling the farmer to make sound planting and irrigation decisions. Thermal image cameras also allow the operator to more effectively monitor livestock activity at a greater frequency, to determine if there are any missing or injured from a herd, as well as any giving birth. Thermal imaging will also assist the farmer in monitoring any predators.

However, like all devices, drones have their disadvantages. Perhaps the most important is they require a level of knowledge and skill to operate them. Though current units are more user friendly than earlier models, an operator must be familiar with the technology and applications of the drone to effectively employ it. Many drones have a limited flight time and cover a smaller area than an aircraft would. Although larger drones are available, which offer a longer flight time and greater range, these come at a greater cost. Drones may also be more difficult to fly in extreme weather, offering little wind resistance due to their small size. Some ag drones may use the same airspace as commercial aircraft, which could cause a collision. Since ag drones are to be flown commercially, prospective pilots must complete a prescribed FAA course before they are allowed to fly them. Although drones are relatively new on the agricultural scene, they're already making a huge impact, with ag drones projected to take an 80% share of the drone market within the next ten years. Drones have already decreased planting costs by as much as 85% in some locales. Perhaps, the most overwhelming factor in favor of ag drones is they are able to optimize the resources a farmer already has in an effective manner.

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