Satellites and Drones Working Together for the Benefit of Modern Agriculture


Farming is one of the oldest spheres of human activity. Today, as many thousands of years ago, mankind cultivates fields and gardens, which means that agriculture is keeping up with the times. It is hard to imagine how it is possible to grow grain for all seven billion people and still use the old methods of work. In the modern world, in the era of high technology, even the cultivation of ordinary potatoes is accompanied by a fairly complex technological process, which is improving every day. For example, the use of drone photography and high-res satellite images in agriculture are prime example of this.

Both technologies keep developing and offering more and more opportunities to growers. For instance, according to Allied Market Research, the global agriculture drone market grows by over 20% annually. In parallel, the 5.5 billion satellite technologies market offers historical and relevant data based on vegetation indices to agribusinesses, Straits Research claims. Especially now, when everyone can easily get access to high resolution satellite imagery for free via different software.

As both technologies have their advantages and drawbacks, the best decision is to use them together for the most effective farm monitoring and management.

Drones and Satellites in Agro

Each type of agricultural imagery has its own advantages and disadvantages. Most importantly, the possibilities of digital monitoring from space or with the help of drones are far from being exhausted. Farmers make the decision to use this or that innovation when they are convinced of its economic efficiency. Satellite monitoring significantly reduces the cost of crop inspection and evaluation, which is especially beneficial for large landowners. And differentiated fertilizer application combined with satellite monitoring can save up to a third of the cost of plant nutrition for the same amount of yield as if one applied fertilizer to the entire field area.

Drone monitoring helps quickly and accurately see the differences between healthy and problem plants so that growers can respond quickly where needed. Unlike a human, airplane, or satellite, drone monitoring can be done on a regular basis and as often as you need it, even every hour. Software tools will allow you to combine the information obtained in the form of slow-motion imagery to see processes of changes in crops, to identify problem areas or opportunities for better management of lands and crops. So, what are the ultimate advantages and disadvantages of drones and satellites in terms of field monitoring?

Many factors contribute to the success of satellite imagery: availability, cost, timeliness, vast area coverage, and online access to remote areas. Disadvantages of the tool include dependence on cloud cover, frequency of imaging, and resolution. Although high-quality satellite images without cloud cover are out there, they usually come at a much higher cost and still are harder and not as fast to obtain compared to drone imagery.

The pros of using drones are shooting frequency (depends only on the user), very high resolution (2 – 30 cm/pixel), and the ability to work in cloudy weather. The cons of using drones are small coverage areas, high maintenance costs, piloting skills required, and the physical presence of the drone operator at the site.

In fact, drones and satellites are two tools that can complement each other by working in tandem. You can find out the zones of productivity in the field, and then follow the interesting areas from the drone, which will reduce the amount of work for the drone, and make the analysis more accurate and complete. Prescription maps for differentiated fertilizer applications can be created based on satellite imagery, but herbicide application maps can be built based on drone data. By working drones and satellites can help cover the entire range of work related to plant monitoring in agriculture.

There is numerous software developed specifically for farm management, including EOSDA Crop Monitoring — an all-in-one solution that utilizes middle and higher-resolution satellite image analytics for remote field management, including offering data on each field zone for higher precision. Let’s see an example of how that works and how it can be backed up with drone data.

Plot State Analysis: Satellites and Drones

Aero665 is an Argentine-based drone service company that has used EOSDA Crop Monitoring along with drones to gather data about field plots more efficiently.

The company had a plot of approximately 18 hectares sowed with wheat in a field located in Las Flores, Argentina. The need for inspection occurred when a long period of dry weather was followed by heavy rainfall. Therefore, the team needed to see how the plant was doing after that, ensuring there is no severe flooding.

EOSDA Crop Monitoring enabled the company to access vegetation indices data to evaluate crop health remotely in a particular field area. The indices used included NDVI and MSAVI to estimate plant chlorophyll content while mitigating the bare soil effect. After that, these images were compared to the field elevation map.

However, it still doesn’t mean that flooded areas are the lowest on the plot. To be 100% sure, ground data must be collected. And that is where high-resolution drone pictures come in. Only now, the operators will know exactly where to fly the drones, reducing the time and money needed for field inspection.

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