Cereals: The Arable Event

How can drones benefit an arable business? 

Drones can help farmers and agronomists by saving them time and potentially, money. 

By observing colour differences in the crop canopy from images taken by drones, they can be used to identify where crops are stressed, where weeds are present and to estimate yields.

Drones are an efficient way of seeing large areas of crop. This enables farmers and agronomists to identify problem areas, further investigate and take timely action.

What types of drones are there?

There are two main types:

  1. Multirotor – as the name suggests, these have rotary blades.  Mulitrotor drones can hold a fixed position (hover) and have vertical take off, making them easier to operate. However, they demand lots of battery power and have comparatively short flight times – normally between 10 – 20 minutes.
  2.  Fixed wing – drones with fixed wings look like planes.  These types of drones have much longer flight times at around 2 hours and fly in constant motion.

What type of camera is needed for aerial mapping of fields?

Within agriculture three types of cameras are commonly used:

  1. ‘Standard’ camera – this type of camera is widely available in retail shops.  It is a ‘normal’ camera that produces visual images.
  2. IR converted camera – a ‘normal’ off the shelf camera that has been modified by swapping or adding a filter to improve its ability to capture infrared.  This type of camera can be used to produce NDV imagery.
  3. Mulitspectral camera – a camera specifically designed for taking images of vegetation. Settings on these cameras allow users to take visual images and images close to the infrared spectrum which are then converted to produce vegetation indexes such as NDVI or SAVI.


When selecting a camera bear in mind its weight.  The heavier the camera, the larger the drone needs to be and the higher the cost.

A modern consumer pocket camera can be sufficient to capture images that can be used for identifying problem areas.  

The images taken by a drone’s camera must incorporate a significant amount of overlap.  The pictures are then stitched or mosaicked together to create one map of the field or area.

What’s NDVI and SAVI imagery?

Live green vegetation absorbs visible light (solar radiation) as part of photosynthesis.  At the same time plants reflect solar energy in the near infrared frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum.  This difference in absorption and reflection is unique to plants and to plant species.

By measuring the difference between the light absorbed and reflected by crops, the presence of weeds can be detected. When crops are stressed, photosynthesis is affected therefore changing the amount of light absorbed and reflected, so this can be seen with drones too.

NDVI stands for Normalised Difference Vegetation Index and is an algorithm that can take into account conditional variations such as bright sunlight and cloud cover.

SAVI stands for Soil Adjusted Vegetation Index.  It’s an algorithm used where vegetation is low and the soil surface is exposed.

Once processed, the NDVI shaped files can be used for a variety of purposes including detection and location of weeds, counting plants and assessing crop health and biomass.

How large an area can I map in a single flight?

On average, 30-50 acres, depending upon the shape of the field(s) and the lie of the land.  The Civil Aviation Authority rules state that drones must not be flown Beyond the Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), which is accepted as 500m.

How high can a drone fly?

120m is the highest users are permitted to fly drones.  The height most users will fly drones depends upon the type of drone and the objective of the mission. Around 80m is optimal for counting potato plants, for example.

Fixed wing drones should not be flown at less than 100m otherwise the images they capture can be blurred due to the speed at which it can travel over ground when flying down wind.

What rules and regulations will I need to comply with? 

There are many rules to comply with. These will be explained in full at the demonstration at the Cereals Event but include:

  • Not to fly for profit or money unless you hold Permission For Aerial Work
  • Make sure the drone is in line of sight at all times and no higher than 120m
  • Drones must not be flown Beyond the Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), which is accepted as 500m
  • Always keep your drone away from aircraft, helicopters, airports and airfields
  • Drones fitted with cameras must not be flown:
    • within 50m of people, vehicles, buildings or structures
    • over congested areas or large gatherings such as concerts and sports events

 

For more information about flying drones visit: https://www.caa.co.uk/drones/

What computing hardware/software will I need?

It depends upon the system that you choose.  The image processing can be done in the cloud and the results are viewed and data accessed through a web based mapping portal using a desktop, laptop or tablet with internet connection.

How can I find out more?

You can visit the Drone Zone at the Cereals event on the 15th & 16th June. 

Don’t forget your ticket to the Cereals Event!

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