Drones in agriculture. A well-established reality
The use of remotely piloted aircraft (R.P.A.), as they are defined, places drones among the most modern and versatile tools that can be a valuable aid for the farmer.
The Italian Navigation Code also places them within the notion of aircraft (Article 743) and defines them as “remotely piloted aircraft”. These are therefore tools with remote controls that offer a truly articulated possibility of use and can represent one of the most effective and modern means of investigation and control.
Drones allow flexibility of use and speed of intervention; they allow an ever-higher resolution and investigation precision; a wide availability in the detection of data obtained through special sensors, multispectral chambers, thermal chambers, GPS and magnetometers.
For some years Biolchim, in collaboration with SkyDrone360, has been using drones in the agricultural sector, in two distinct application modes. The first, most widespread, is the monitoring activity.
It is divided into several moments:
- observation and survey phase;
- preventive diagnostic phase;
- processing phase.
In the first phase, the use of the drone is of great help since observation from above – in a large space – allows you to compare overall situations with the ability to better identify areas, focus on critical issues, quantify phenomena and consequences. The view from above is however more indicative of the overall state of the crop. The inclusion in each area, the qualities of the stand and those of the context in which the crop is located.
In the second phase, through the use of special sensors, related instruments, GPS, etc., it allows to collect specific data to perform an evaluation of the main agronomic, physiological, meteorological parameters that lead to knowing, in real time, the capacity of the soil and its critical areas, the phytosanitary state of the crop; the presence of pathologies in progress and the planning of any targeted curative interventions.
In the third phase, the operators have the concrete possibility of processing timely data and therefore of planning any curative or preventive interventions in a detailed manner and therefore with a much more careful look at reducing the impact on the environment and safeguarding naturalness.
From an operational point of view, the main advantages of these tools are:
- flexibility of use as needed;
- timeliness and speed of intervention;
- high spatial resolution;
- wide availability of specialized equipment (multi and hyperspectral cameras, laser scanner type sensors, thermal cameras, RGB cameras, etc.);
- low operating costs.
On the other hand, the main problems concern the need to correct the images taking into account the brightness of the day, as well as the time in which the survey is carried out and above all, as regards the cultivation of kiwi, the anti-hail cover which can represent a limiting factor.
The result is a saving of time, work and machines, but above all a lower environmental impact linked to the targeted use of phytosanitary products and water resources. Particularly indicative is the use of drones for the surveillance and diagnostics of kiwi plants.
In fact, we are carrying out an experience on the use of these tools, at the farm of San Giovanni di Renato and Davide Campoli, located in the province of Latina; this has allowed us to appreciate how the use of these tools is of fundamental importance for the technician, for the processing of data that are collected in the field and in real time and which translate into the proposition of targeted strategies by concentrating economic resources, avoiding waste , intervening with absolute timing, coordinating analysis and synthesis; in one, offering the farmer a much more concrete and detailed help.
Specifically, through the processing of multispectral images obtained through the use of special viewers, it was possible to analyze the state of health of the green-fleshed kiwi plant, dividing them into three sectors according to the critical issues that emerged, in particular on one of them.
Specifically, the diagnostics highlighted a good water content on all the awnings and a widespread lack of nitrogen, potassium and microelements; on the other hand, the content of magnesium and calcium is discreet.
With a targeted Biolchim strategy we intervened to try to solve the problems that emerged. With the following flights we will check if we have managed to correct the nutritional deficiencies.
There are 4 flights in plan, the first carried out on May 22, in the pre-flowering phase, and the others will be performed every 30 days, to have greater control of the situation in a very critical period. It should be added that the diagnosis was made by recording and processing the values of the substances contained within the plants at the time of detection (in real time) and not what is contained in the soil.
The results of the analysis and processing allow, as already mentioned, to undertake targeted strategies that can certainly reduce the economic impact on cultivation costs, but above all to limit the use of impacting substances by limiting the distribution only to truly needy areas.