Applications of drones in Precision Agriculture (PA)
Dr. Evangelo Damigos; PhD | Head of Digital Futures Research Desk
- Competitive Differentiation
Publication | Update: Oct 2022
The growing demand for food production and consumption is driving the need for a contemporary agricultural solution across agriculture worldwide. Drones as a technology have transformed agriculture by increasing efficiency, reducing costs and increasing profitability. Facts and Factors, a leading market research consultancy, has prepared a market research report on the demand for agricultural robots and drones globally. The market revenue was estimated to be around USD 5,172.50 million in 2021 and is expected to reach around USD 14,120.03 million by 2028, at a CAGR of nearly 18.21 percent between 2022 and 2028.
Precision Agriculture (PA) is one of the most promising application areas for drones, whose share expected to lead by 2030 (figure 1). ‘Precision Agriculture is a management strategy that gathers, processes and analyzes temporal, spatial and individual data and combines it with other information to support management decisions according to estimated variability for improved resource use efficiency, productivity, quality, profitability and sustainability of agricultural production.’ 
Figure 1: Agriculture drones market 2014-2024. GrandViewResearch. (2022).Agricultural Drone Market Analysis by product. Retrieved from: https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/agriculture-drones-market
UAVs are used in precision agriculture for a range of tasks, from aerial planting and spraying to agricultural field analysis. Drones are extremely useful in meticulously monitoring large areas of farmland, taking into account aspects such as slope and elevation to determine the most successful planting routine. Below are the main functions of drones in precision agriculture:
Crop surveying and mapping
One of the most obvious benefits of drone technology is its ability to monitor large areas of farmland and agriculture. In the past, farmers and businesses used satellite or aerial imagery to get a large-scale view of the land and identify potential problems. But these views were not only expensive, but also not as accurate as those from drones. Farmers and businesses can now get real-time imagery and time-based animations that show crop development in real time. Mapping and surveying by drone allow technological decisions to be made based on real-time data rather than historical photos.
Weeds and pest control management
Drones with special cameras and sensors capable of identifying specific weeds and pests, as well as technology from GPS, which provides positional data for mapping fields, can help capture vast areas in seconds. UAVs enable more accurate planning of weed control strategy, increase the efficiency of mechanical techniques and reduce herbicide use, resulting in lower costs, slower establishment of weed resistance and greater biodiversity. They can also cover several hectares in a matter of minutes by flying over the field and sending photo data to identify weeds and pests. Farmers and businesses can also control weeds and pests as quickly as possible before they damage the entire crop.
Drones are often used to inspect the condition of the soil. In conventional agricultural methods, inspecting the soil involves several phases, such as walking the field in person with equipment and assessing the soil sample according to various aspects. The drone, on the other hand, has a wealth of sensors and sophisticated equipment to properly examine the soil to provide reliable information.
Irrigation and water management
This is where drone thermography comes in, using thermal sensors to provide a picture of the moisture content of the soil. With this data, informed decisions can be made about irrigation measures to ensure that parts of the farm that need more water receive it, while regions that are already wet are not over-watered. Finally, with the benefits described above, drones are helping to make farming a much more accurate science. Water and irrigation problems are not only costly, but can also affect agricultural yields. With the help of drone surveying, a farmer can detect these problems before they become a major issue.
Another advantage of precision drones in agriculture is that fertilisers can be used more effectively and efficiently. Drones can use advanced sensor technology to identify exactly where more nutrients are needed, so they can be applied only where they are needed most. Finally, they are highly effective sprayers, able to apply just the right amount of plant food at just the right time, reducing fertiliser run-off by up to 20 percent. This not only reduces farming costs, but also prevents unnecessary environmental damage.
 Avirtech. (2021, December). The role of drones in precision agriculture. Retrieved from: https://www.avirtech.co/the-role-of-drones-in-precision-agriculture
 FlyPard Analytics GmbH. (2022, January). How to use drones in precision agriculture. Retrieved from: https://geopard.tech/blog/how-to-use-drones-in-precision-agriculture/#
 Facts & Factors. (2022, August). By 2028, size of global agricultural robots and drones market will exceed US$ 14,120.03 million, at 18.21% CAGR: Comprehensive research report by facts & factors. GlobeNewswire. Retrieved from: https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2022/08/02/2490711/0/en/By-2028-Size-of-Global-Agricultural-Robots-and-Drones-Market-Will-Exceed-US-14-120-03-Million-at-18-21-CAGR-Comprehensive-Research-Report-by-Facts-Factors.html#:~:text=%E2%80%9CAccording%20to%20the%20latest%20research,CAGR)%20of%20about%2018.21%25%20during
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