Farm by air: Agricultural drones take to the skies

The first drones designed for agricultural purposes are now being used on farms, marking the start of a move towards more advanced technology being used in the industry.

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in question scans a field of wheat or oilseed rape and provides accurate data about which areas require fertiliser. This ensures the fertiliser is not over-used, reducing waste and saving money.

Developed by French company Airinov, the drone is already proving a hit with those who have tried it; in the last year more than 2,000 farmers have used the UAV, known as Agridrone, to cover more than 20,000 hectares of land.

France has embraced drones for civilian uses, such as aerial filming, far quicker than many other countries, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the country is the first to see drones used in food production.

“French farmers are the first in the world to use the new possibilities offered by drones in the fields, and it is not a coincidence,” said Airinov founder Romain Faoux, in a press release translated from French.

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Airinov was keen to stress that the technology is designed to help farmers, rather than replace them.

It contains sensors to measure nitrogen concentrations – nitrogen is required for plants to grow, but too much can be damaging to the environment.

With an accurate picture of where and how much more nitrogen is required, farmers can mix appropriate fertilizer and apply it only where needed, saving them money and ensuring they comply with regulations.

The drone is designed to be simple to use, with accompanying software that has a clear, user-friendly display.  Farmers who purchase the drones are giving full training in its use, which takes just two days.

The first farmer to purchase an Agridrone, Jean-Baptiste Bruggeman, believes the drone has significant benefits for farmers.

“I am so convinced of the relevance of this tool that I decided to invest in a drone myself to perform flights on my farm and for other farmers,” he said. “This new technology will democratize because it is accessible to all farmers regardless of the size of operations, the geographical location and the age of the operator.”

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Predictions about the role of these drones in farming have been circling for some time, but until recently the idea was largely a part of futurists’ talks at trade conferences.

Now with farmers seeing the benefits of the technology, it is likely that other drones for farming and agriculture will become available.

There is even hope that these technologies will help to attract younger people to the profession, which has suffered a decline in interest among many young people.

“The use of this new technology has the advantage of highlighting the appeal of farming and arousing the interest of young people,” said Bruggeman. “It can help maintain the earth for a new generation who might be tempted to leave this activity.”


Images courtesy of Airinov.


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