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Agri-EPI explores drone technology for precision spraying

Use of drone technology in precision agriculture has gained popularity in recent years, however there are still legislative barriers preventing widespread adoption, something which Agri-EPI explored in a recent webinar. Currently drones can be used for surveying, mapping, crop monitoring and disease detection. But advances in technology mean autonomous crop pesticide applications could be a reality – if the regulations keep up.

“Precision technology can tackle key agricultural challenges – using variable rate and precise application can reduce spray use and improve yields,” explained Hannah Tew, ecosystem director at Connected Places Catapult.

From a health and safety aspect, there are some benefits too.

“There are huge opportunities in accessibility to remove potential risks,” said James Thomas, sustainable and responsible business manager EAME at Syngenta. “For example, in Asia using drones removes the need for someone to be knee deep in water in a rice field or someone spraying a steep vineyard.”

However, in the UK the Sustainable Use Directive 14 forbids aerial spraying, including the use of drones, although there is a derogation available through the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). And there are questions on the efficacy of application.

“Comparing a mist blower and a drone for controlling powdery mildew in grapes, the conventional sprayer came out much better due to the lack of drift,” said Mr Thomas.

But drone technology is advancing all the time.

“We’re heading into the fourth agricultural revolution and things are changing rapidly, but chemicals will still be around for a while,” added Bryn Bircher, policy officer at HSE. “There is the issue of drift; we know there is a lot of drift with a boom sprayer but we don’t know the effect of drift from drones yet.”

And some drones do boast an impressive time saving.

“A drone with a 20-litre tank can cover 15 hectares an hour,” explained Robert Pearson at Auto Spray Solutions.

It’s important to remember that drones are not replacing conventional systems.

“People will only use the drone if it’s better for the job than the conventional way,” added Jack Wrangham at Drone Ag.

And it’s not just spraying which drones could be useful for, they could be used for mapping, applying solid fertiliser, seeds and slug pellets.

“Farmers could get field reports in minutes, just from flying a drone across the field – close up imagery can be used for crop uniformity and accessing the severity of weed patches,” said Mr Wrangham. “This could inform variable rate applications, so chemicals are only applied where necessary.”

Regulatory challenges aside, the HSE is working alongside the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to establish what can be done to make drone operations safe.

“It is possible to apply for a permit, which will be unique to each business,” said Mr Bircher. “We want to support new tech and I hope we can do so, with the existing legislation.”

 

Drones In Agriculture: Automation is the Future

Drones offer a huge range of applications in the agricultural sector and are a hugely exciting part of up-and-coming agri-tech solutions. The key to maximising drone technology’s huge potential in agriculture, according to Agri-EPI Centre’s Chief Technical Officer, is the introduction of commercial services for automated drones (drones able to pilot themselves over farmland).

Dr Shamal Mohammed described his vision for the future of drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), when he spoke at a recent meeting of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Science and Technology in Agriculture.

Future of Drones

After infrastructure, agriculture is the world’s second biggest market for the commercial application of drone technology, according to PwC, with an estimated potential value of $32.4 billion. The APPG invited experts from across the sector to discuss the opportunities and challenges inherent in realising the economic and environmental value of drones in UK farming.

Speaking alongside fellow drone experts from UK agri-tech company Hummingbird Technologies and Harper Adams University, Dr Mohammed described how drones are currently being used on farms. They most commonly undertake ‘eye-in-the-sky’ diagnostic activities like soil analysis, crop monitoring and disease detection, and apply inputs such as fertiliser and pesticides.

Challenges

Shamal described a range of challenges associated with the commercial use of drones. These include the need for qualified pilots, as current commercial models involve farmers purchasing and operating drones themselves or bringing in a company to do the work for them.

Further challenges include regulations requiring flying within the ‘visual line of sight’; their small payload; weather dependency; rural connectivity problems and the current gap in regulation around reducing ‘drift’ of chemical applications.

The future

Dr Mohammed believes that automated or semi-automated drones would alleviate some of these issues. Farmers would use commercial drone-programming services which, once connected to weather stations, would enable the drones to know when conditions were right, take off and fly automatically. The UAVs would then upload data gathered to an easy-to-view farmer interface, providing quality insights and enabling better decision making for farmers.

“This new and as-yet unrealised model would make it easier for farmers to access the benefits of drones,” said Dr Mohammed. “They won’t replace existing systems entirely – for example, farmers will still need tractors and sprayers – but drones might be integrated into their sprayer programmes to carry-out specific small-scale tasks.

“The development of commercial services involving automated, modular-based drones with better connectivity and supported by localised regulation is the key means of achieving the biggest benefits for agriculture.”

Working together on the future of agri-tech

Agri-EPI’s Agri-tech Innovation Support partner Leyton has seen R&D activity in the crop production sector. Dr Matilda Hayward, R&D Technical Consultant, Leyton, says: “The use of drones within the agriculture sector can significantly enhance precision and accuracy for more targeted farming strategies. Developing and integrating drone software platforms for a range of benefits is a popular innovation which may fall under the R&D Tax scheme. Agriculture business who are working on technically challenging projects involving the use of drones should explore R&D tax relief as a method of funding their projects.”

Agri-EPI Centre’s member network includes several innovative UAV and drone companies that are establishing their technology in the arable sector, including:

Featured Drone Members

Drone Ag

DroneAg uses drones, automation and simple AI technology to make farming more productive and efficient. Bringing together the expertise of farmers, agronomists, drone pilots and software engineers under one banner, Drone Ag draws on the team’s own experience of running a 6,000-acre farm to provide innovative and practical solutions for farmers today, from field mapping and crop spraying to software and drone training courses.

Hummingbird Technologies

Hummingbird Technologies is an artificial intelligence business, using imagery and data analytics from satellite, drone, plane and robot technology, along with proprietary algorithms, to provide farmers with high-resolution maps of their crops at critical decision-making junctions in the season.

Omega Crop

Omega Crop’s patented crop modelling technology, which analyses drone-gathered images of a wheat crop to identify the presence of preventable disease and weeds, often before a farmer or agronomist could detect the problem by eye. This gives the farmer time to make an informed choice about if and how they can intervene to protect their yield.

Animal Dynamics

Stork, is Animal Dynamic’s heavy-lift, aerial payload delivery vehicle has the potential to significantly improve the safety, speed, efficacy, and cost-effectiveness of aerial fertiliser, pesticide, or bio-stimulant application. Being fully autonomous and packaged with a user-friendly interface, it will be a quick and easy process to highlight a field area, and let the vehicle do the rest of the work. Stork will take-off, apply the payload across the desired location, and return to land all without any need for human control.

We are confident Stork has the potential to improve yields, reduce waste and pollution, save time, and also reduce costs, making these benefits affordable to a broad range of customers. This technology will help meet the growing demand for high quality food without needing to increase costs or damage the environment in the process.

Agri-Tech Innovation Support

Did you know that Innovative businesses are able to claim back up to 33% of the costs which relate to their research and development activities, such as the advancement of new or existing products or processes?

Innovative use of technology such as drones, sensors, scanners and software can qualify for R&D tax credits. Get in touch with Leyton today:

 

 

Workshop Emerging imaging technologies in Agri-Food

Imaging technologies are developing rapidly and their increased use in agri-food could help increase agricultural productivity, reduce food waste and improve food quality. A recent workshop organised by Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) brought together the Agri-Food and Imaging communities to explore opportunities for innovation using emerging imaging technologies across the agri-food sector.

Agri-EPI Centre CEO Dave Ross set the scene for the day, showing the amount of food that will have to be produced in the coming years to feed a growing world. The power of imaging technologies in agri-food is one of the key ways yields can be increased. The future of farming was hinted at with a video showing the ‘Hands Free Hectare’ at Harper Adams University.

Event synopsis

You might be interested in the blog that was written of the event by KTN, written by Charlie Winkworth-Smith, Knowledge Transfer Manager – Emerging Technologies, KTN. Posted on 5 February 2018:

‘Emerging imaging technologies in agri-food’

Increased use of imaging technologies in agri-food could help increase agricultural productivity, reduce food waste and improve food quality.

Imaging technologies are developing rapidly and their increased use in agri-food could help increase agricultural productivity, reduce food waste and improve food quality. The event highlighted how emerging imaging technologies are vital for continued innovation in the agri-food industry. Professor Simon Pearson from the University of Lincoln, who chaired the workshop, commented that imaging technology is the backbone of precision agriculture as DNA is to bioscience.

Dave Ross from the Agri-EPI Centre set the scene for the day, showing the amount of food that will have to be produced in the coming years to feed a growing world. The power of imaging technologies in agri-food is one of the key ways yields can be increased. The future of farming was hinted at with a video showing the Hands Free Hectare at Harper Adams University.

Dr Martin Whitworth from Campden BRI showed how imaging technologies are being implemented in the food industry, with ovens being placed inside medical X-Ray CT scanners to monitor the structure of cakes during baking, hyperspectral imaging used to map the composition of food and thermal imaging being used to validate cooking instructions.

Dr Dorian Parker from M Squared Lasers showed how imaging technologies originally developed for the defence sector are now being adapted to detect the whisky escaping from casks. Optical fingerprinting is now able to differentiate whiskies by brand, age or even type of cask used. The first use cases of single pixel quantum imaging were also discussed, from methane imaging to seeing through tinted glass.

Opportunities for the space sector in precision agriculture were highlighted by Mark Jarman from the Satellite Applications Catapult. Hyperspectral imaging, thermal imaging and synthetic aperture radar are all technologies that are now being utilised to give farmers more information about their crops to help increase yields.

The use of imaging in the ruminant sector was explored by Dr Carol-Anne Duthie from SRUC. Time of flight 3D cameras can be mounted on water troughs which automatically capture images of animals to monitor the health of the animal. Thermal imaging can be used to identify inflammation, bruises or tendon injuries days before they will be visible to the farmer. After slaughter, visible and near infra-red spectroscopy is a non-invasive technique that can help predict cooking loss, composition, mechanical tenderness and sensory traits.

Dr Wenhao Zhang from the Centre for Machine Vision at the Bristol Robotics Lab showed that facial recognition of pigs is now possible. He also showed that 3D imaging can be a valuable tool for plant phenotyping as it will help indicate plant health and reveal gene induced traits. Imaging technologies are beginning to be used for weed detection in fields which could potentially reduce herbicide use by in excess of 90%.

Dr Simon Plant from Innovate UK and Dr Katherine Lutteroth from BBSRC updated the audience on all the funding opportunities available, in particular, the Emerging & Enabling and Health & Life Sciences competitions that are currently open, as well as the LINK scheme and Industry Partnership Awards. Dr Russ Bromley also highlighted the extra funding for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships that is currently available.

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Tag Archive for: drones

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