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Growing demand for food is putting increasing pressure on the environment. Excess fertilizers and chemical sprays pollute waterways: In 2020, 2.66 billion metric tons of pesticides were used around the world. But drones could be the answer to transforming the way we farm, improving crop yield and limiting environmental impact.

Soil health is another area closely monitored by farmers, now aided by drone sensory data. Information captured by drones can help farmers analyze soil composition and decide where supplements are required, increasing crop yields.

Drones are a new technology allowing farmers and consultants to obtain overhead images of farm fields and land areas at greatly reduced prices over satellite and other methods,” says Randy Price, precision farming specialist at Louisiana State University Agricultural Center.

Drones can be fitted with sensors and imaging technology, and this data plays an integral role in active farming. Among other uses, the data can help farmers identify health issues with the crop, such as fungal contaminations, pest infestations or areas of growth congestion. Identifying these issues early and targeting specific locations eliminates the need to spray entire crops with pesticides — which means less toxicants in the air, soil and food supply.

Randy Price – Louisiana State University Agricultural Center

But drones aren’t only used for capturing data, they’re also good workers. Beyond identifying the problem, they can also be the solution.

“Once images are obtained, spatial variability maps can be made and downloaded to sprayer drones, which will allow automatic spraying of selected areas with very little pilot attention needed — this technology is evolving rapidly and will eventually lead to effortless, precision spraying over larger areas of land in an entirely computer-controlled fashion,” Price tells KUST Review.

With any new technology, there are obstacles to overcome. The drones are equipped with 5G and send the data back to be analyzed, but connectivity issues could inhibit data collection and transmission; wind or rain can affect drone flights; governments may require clearance to use drones; and with added technology comes added costs.

Still, with the agricultural drone market expected to grow to $10.8 billion by 2028, up from $1.3 billion in 2020, these obstacles are expected to rapidly diminish.

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