Drone technology is having a huge impact on the agricultural industry, according to a recent report, the global drone market will grow from $2.8 billion in 2020 to 15.2 billion in 2027. Drone use in agriculture is worth an estimated $30 billion and is second only to construction in terms of market value. Drones are primarily used in two areas of agriculture, mapping and spraying. When it comes to choosing the best drones for agriculture, there are a few factors that will determine which drone is best suitable for an agricultural project.
For example, for agricultural field mapping, you have the option of either a fixed-wing drone or a multi-copter drone.
Fixed-wing drones are more expensive, and they are more suitable for mapping large areas of land. There are also not as many options for fixed-wing drones when compared to the range of options that are available for multi-copter drones.
Multi-copter drones are great for mapping smaller areas of land, they also offer greater manoeuvrability and have many other uses other than just mapping.
For example, with multi-copter drones, users can fly over a field at low altitude and get a quick visual of the crops and see if there are any visible pest or disease problems, which can then be treated promptly.
The other area in which drone technology is slowly gaining ground is in agricultural drone spraying.
Crop spraying is also carried out by multi-copters thanks to their structure and design, they make agricultural crop spraying much easier.
What Are The Benefits Of Using Drones In Agriculture?
There are many benefits of utilising drone technology in agriculture, one of the biggest is that they provide an easier and inexpensive method to gather crop data than traditional methods.
For example, farmers will no longer have to walk around the field to scout crops or use other time consuming and inefficient methods.
With the use of drones, farmers can easily map a field and gather accurate crop data through the use of different types of sensors.
That is another benefit of using drones, many commercial grade drones are compatible with multiple type of cameras that come with different sensors.
Depending on the type of data that is required, drones can be attached with a high-resolution RGB camera, a multi-spectral camera and many are compatible with LiDAR sensors.
Gathering accurate data in all stages of growing crops is very important as it will help farmers detect any issues with regards to the health of plants and soil quickly and allow them to take action and mitigate the problem.
Not only is it easier to gather data with the use of drones but because they are so easily deployable, farmers will be able to do it on a more regular basis.
Not only is this a more efficient way to gather crop data but it will also lead to better crop management which will result in healthier crops, higher yield and better return on investment.
Another benefit of using drone technology for agriculture is that they are usually a much cheaper option than something like using a manned aircraft to gather mapping data or for crop spraying.
Drones also offer a much safer option for crop spraying, especially for farmers who use backpacks to spray crops.
Using drones for crop spraying is proving to be more practical especially for areas of land that are hard to reach by foot or tractors. In fact, according to this article, sugar cane farmers in El-Salvador are spraying their crops for the first time thanks to drones.
Drones are also playing a huge role in sustainable agricultural practices, using drones is helping farmers use their resources more efficiently and reducing the use of harmful chemicals.
Best Drone Mapping Software
Of course, using drones to collect image data is just one part of the solution, users will also need a robust software to turn the drone image data into actionable digital assets that are easy to analyse and extract valuable data from.
There are many drone mapping applications that are suitable for agricultural data analysis, the most popular ones are the following:
Depending on the type of sensor being used and the data required, these applications can be used to develop different types of maps, 3D models and extract data through different agricultural indices.
These drone mapping applications will help farmers identify issues regarding pests, irrigation, disease, plant stress level, soil nitrate level etc and allow them to precisely target the affected areas through variable rate application.
Best Drones For Agriculture – Mapping
DJI Phantom 4 RTK
The DJI Phantom 4 RTK is one of the most popular commercial grade drones on the market. It’s an exceptional drone that comes with a 20MP 1-inch sensor that can capture highly detailed aerial images with survey grade accuracy thanks to its RTK GNSS module. It uses TimeSync technology to align the flight controller, RTK module and camera to make sure that images are embedded with accurate geospatial data. The drone has a flight time of around 30 minutes and uses DJI’s OcuSync transmission technology that allows users to stream live video from 7km. The drone comes with it own flight planning app that can also collect data for photogrammetry application.
DJI Phantom 4 Multispectral
This drone has been specifically engineered for agricultural and environmental monitoring purposes, it comes equipped with a 6-array camera that includes an RGB camera, Blue, Green, Red, Red Edge and NIR sensors. All sensors capture images in 2MP and are stabilised by a 3-axis gimbal as well as coming with an RTK module for centimetre level accuracy. Multi-spectral cameras capture plant image data that is undetectable through the naked eye and helps in identifying disease, irrigation issues and plant stress levels. For live video feed, users can switch between normal RGB and NDVI and get a quick overall view of the crops. The drone comes with an RTK module as well as a spectral sunlight sensor that ensures consistent accuracy of the NDVI data.
DJI Matrice 300 RTK
This is DJI’s most advanced commercial grade drone, it has a robust all-weather design that allows it to be operated in the harshest of weather conditions. It also has the longest flight time of any DJI drone at 55 minutes and a maximum transmission range of 15km. This drone can carry up to 3 payloads. This includes the full-frame 45MP Zenmuse P1 camera and the Zenmuse L1 Livox LiDAR sensor. The drone can also be fitted with third-party payloads that include multi-spectral cameras from SlantRange and Sentera.
Micro Drone mdMapper 1000DG
An all-weather drone that has been engineered for use in multiple industries, the mdMapper 1000DG comes equipped with the Sony RX1R 11 42MP full-frame camera with a nadir mount. This drone requires no ground control points for survey-grade accuracy as it uses direct georeferencing technology. It can map around 80 hectares in one flight and comes with an onboard powerful IMU that captures accurate orientation angles making it a powerful tool for corridor mapping.
Micro Drone mdLiDAR 3000DL
The mdLiDAR 300DL has been designed to be used in large scale mapping projects. It has a long flight time that allows it to map large areas of land with survey-grade centimetre-level accuracy. The drone comes with a downward-looking LiDAR sensor from Reigl that has a 150 per second scan speed and can measure 100 thousand measurements per second. It also comes with the Sony RX1R 11 full-frame camera for photogrammetry use. This is a fantastic all-round drone that can be used in multiple industries including agriculture, forestry management and construction.
Micro Drone mdLiDAR 3000LR
This is a powerful mapping drone for all industries, it comes equipped with one of the best LiDAR sensors from Reigl that has a scan rate of 200 scans per second and measures 500 thousand points within that time frame. The sensor has a massive 330° for near limitless data acquisition and uses Reigls innovative echo signal digitisation and online waveform analysis. The drone has a robust frame that has been engineered to be flown in all types of weather and comes with an advanced GNSS receiver with a dual IMU board from Trimble that eliminates that need for GCP’s and uses direct georeferencing technology for positional accuracy.
Micro Drone mdLiDAR 1000HR
The mdLiDAR 1000HR comes with Velodyne’s highly-rated Puck LiDAR sensor which has a 100-meter range and utilises Velodyne’s innovative technology that With Velodyne’s breakthroughs in LiDAR, you can measure distance and reflectivity with real-time, 360°, 3D measurements. It has 16 laser channels, 360° field of view and measures 300 thousand points per second. The drone also comes with a Trimble powered GNSS receiver that has a dual calibrated IMU that provides centimetre-level accuracy and is great for corridor mapping.
The mdLiDAR 1000LR is an exceptional commercial drone that comes with a Trimble powered GNSS receiver and dual calibrated IMU. This component delivers centimetre level accuracy for maps without the need for ground control points. It comes with the latest LiDAR sensor from Velodyne, the Ultra Puck VLP-32, which has 32 laser channels, has a 360° horizontal field of view and a 200m range. The drone also comes with an APS-C 26MP camera and for direct georeferencing, the drone comes equipped with the Trimble APX-15 GNSS Inertial board. This is the latest drone from MD and is suitable for long range mapping projects.
Fixed-Wing Drones For Mapping
Wingtra Gen 2 Drone
After 6 years of development and over 100,000 flights, Wingtra finally released their next generation UAV, the Wingtra Gen 2 drone. This is a hybrid drone that comes with robustness and durability of fixed-wing drone but also the vertical landing and take-off capability of a multi-copter drone. The drone comes with a Sony oblique a1600 camera and is also compatible with several other cameras including the MicaSense Altum and MicaSense RedEdge-MX multispectral cameras. It comes with a built-in PPK GNSS receiver for sub-centimetre level accuracy for GSD which results in better more accurate map reconstruction. This is a robust drone that has an IP68 rating and comes with MIL-STD-810 certificate. It has one of the longest flight times for a commercial grade drone and can be controlled from a distance of 10km.
One of the few drones that has been engineered specifically for agricultural purposes, the eBee Ag is a lightweight fixed-wing drone that comes equipped with the Parrot Sequoia+ multispectral camera and the SenseFly S.O.D.A RGB 20Mmp camera. The drone has a maximum flight time of 55 minutes and can map 200 ha in that time frame. It’s an all-weather drone that can resist strong winds and is the perfect solution to gather highly accurate crop data.
This is the flagship drone from SenseFly, it’s built for all types of industrial applications including precision agriculture. The drone comes with a maximum flight time of 90 minutes, which is the best on this list and is a great option for large scale mapping projects. The drone is lightweight but holds up well in harsh weather conditions and can accurately map huge areas of land thanks to its RTK/PPK GNSS receiver. Its compatible with a range of cameras which includes the 24MP SenseFly Aeria X RGB camera and the MicaSense RedEdge-MX multispectral camera.
A VTOL drone that has been engineered for multiple industrial applications, the Atmos Marlyn looks like an aircraft from a science fiction movie. It has a unique design and has a carbon fibre frame which is protected by a 3-layer EPP foam. It has great durability and can be flown in the harshest of weather conditions. Its hybrid design gives it the power of a fixed-wing drone and the flexibility of a multi-copter and provides a flight time of 50 minutes and can map around 370 acres of land within that time. The drone is compatible with 3 different camera which includes the 42MP Sony RX1 R11 and the MicaSense RedEdge-MX and comes equipped with a PPK GNSS receiver. It’s a fantastic VTOL drone and a great solution for large scale agricultural mapping and data collection projects.
Best Drones For Agriculture – Crop Spraying
DJI Agras T30
The DJI Agras T30 crop spraying drone comes with a 30-litre tank and can also be attached with a 40 litre spreading tank. Its unique spraying system is especially effective for treating fruit bearing trees and with its 16 nozzle layout, and improved plunger pump, the T30 has great spraying penetration and reduces drift. It can spray 8L per minute and has a spray range of 9 meters and can cover 40 acres of land in one hour. The spraying system has an IP67 rating so it is not affected by rain or dust and can be flown in the toughest of weather conditions. The 40-litre spreading tank can be used to spread mulch, fertiliser and seeds and has a maximum capacity of 35kg. The drone has a spherical radar system that perceives its environment and can make adjustments in its flight to avoid obstacles. It has a front and back FPV camera that will allow pilots to monitor spray operations and comes with a searchlight that will allow for improved visuals for nighttime operations.
DJI Agras T10
The Agras T10 comes with the same features as the T30 but with reduced capability, it has a smaller 8-litre tank, and the spray system has 4 nozzles that can spray 2.4 litres per minute and has a spray width of 5 meters. It can also be fitted with a spreader that has a maximum capacity of 8kg and a spreading width of 7 meters. Like the T30, it has a spherical radar system for obstacle avoidance and dual FPV cameras for monitoring operations. This is the lightest and smallest crop spraying drone and is perfect for spraying small areas of land.
DJI Agras T20
The Agras T20 comes with a 20-litre spraying tank and it can also be fitted with the DJI spreader 2.0 tank. The T20 is a powerful spraying drone that has 8 nozzles that can spray 6 litres per minute and has a maximum spray width of 7 meters. The drone can spray 30 acres in one hour and uses a digital omnidirectional radar system for obstacle avoidance. It uses GPS correctional technology to precisely fly along a pre-programmed route and spray only on plants that need to be treated, thus increasing efficiency and reducing waste.
DJI Agras T16
The T16 is similar to the T20, it has a smaller 16-litre tank and comes with an 8 nozzle spray system that has a spray width of 6.5 meters and a maximum spray rate of 4.8 litres per minute. It uses DBF radar for obstacle avoidance and can spray 24 acres in one hour.
XAG XPlanet Spray & Spreading Drone
The XPlanet crop spraying drone from XAG comes with a 20 litre tank and uses their proprietary spray mechanism that atomises droplets and its propellers produce a powerful downward draft to reduce drift and increase chemical coverage on the crops. Using peristaltic pumps, the spraying system has a flow rate of 7.2 litres and a maximum spraying width of 7 meters and can cover 18 hectares of land in an hour. The drone can be mounted with XAG’s JetSeed™ Granule Spreading System, which will allow farmers to spread different types of seeds and fertilisers. It uses RTK GNSS technology for precision flying and uses an advanced 4D radar imaging system to sense its environment and obstacle avoidance.
XAG P30 Plant Protection
A crop-spraying drone that uses RTK technology to precisely navigate its route and only spray in the designated area. The drone has been engineered to operate in the harshest of weather conditions and has an IP65 rating, making it dust and waterproof. The P30 has a tank that can carry 16 litres of liquid and can cover around 14 hectares of land in one hour. The spray system uses XAG’s iRASS intelligent centrifugation to atomise droplets for a more even and effective spraying action.
XAG P20 Plant Protection
The XAG P20 crop spraying drones comes with a spraying system that atomises chemicals for better coverage and efficiency. The drone has a spray width of 4 meters and pumps out chemicals at a rate of 1.2 litres per minute. The drone can spray around 4 hectares in an hour and uses an advanced radar system that can accurately trace any variation in the landscape and make sure the drones fly at a steady altitude.