The Sunday Mail
An extraordinary spread of small metal birds from America, Europe, Australia, and Asia is slowly invading African farms! It is an invasion that is soon to spellbind Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya. This invasion is equally desirable to Zimbabwe given its large tracts of arable land palatable to all forms of agriculture.
From one farm to another, in Kenya for example, these metal birds hover above farms squirting fluids on crops. They are not as pesky as some starling, house sparrows, feral pigeons, seagulls, or quail birds! Owning one of these birds is the envy of any shrewd farmer.
Unmanned aerial vehicles they are! Drones, magical drones are now airborne in these few African countries, deployed in handful agricultural applications. It should dawn on the Zimbabwean farmer that drones can also be magical to their agro-based economy.rom one farm to another, in Kenya for example, these metal birds hover above farms squirting fluids on crops. They are not as pesky as some starling, house sparrows, feral pigeons, seagulls, or quail birds! Owning one of these birds is the envy of any shrewd farmer.
How would drones be significant to Zimbabwean farming? A brief excursion on how these metal birds have been deployed elsewhere in the world would give insight to this alluring phenomenon. Drones are being used in crop monitoring, aerial crop spraying, irrigation management, plant health assessment, and livestock management to mention but a few.
Enhanced crop monitoring and management is presently conducted by drones. To achieve this, drones rely on specific algorithms in their raw data collection. When such data has been gathered, farmers end up having significant, intelligible information that can be used with indisputable exactitude. The burdens associated with grappling with huge expanses of fields are made lighter if drones are introduced on farms.
The high resolutions that characterise the cameras fitted on drones provide high quality images that easily out-compete satellite images. Satellites have a lengthy time lag between picture shots and image production of up to four weeks while drones avail plenty of pictures taken in quick succession within a day.
Time series animations in drone use can allow the exact development of farm crops to be demonstrated. In this way, better crop management is attained thereby eliminating crop production inefficiencies between planting and crop harvest. Drones, for instance, can measure plant height, determine water or moisture needs of crops, count the amount of plants in the field, and provide vegetation indices such as phenology or leaf area.
Aerial crop chemical spraying
Good news to farmers is drones can finish spraying a field five times faster than traditional spraying techniques! Sprayers, lasers, and ultrasonic echoing gadgets affixed to elaborate drones enable minute droplets of agricultural chemicals to be ejected evenly on the crop. Drones are just wizards in scrutinising the ground and gauging distance with terrible exactness. They adjust altitude in real time, taking into account the natural shape, and physical features of the geographical area. Very low chemical levels percolate through groundwater because of the immense diminution in wasted spray associated with drones when administering fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides. Thus, the adverse effects of chemicals on the environment are eased-something the environmentalists would be eager to hear.
Efficient irrigation management
Unmanned aerial vehicles with inbuilt remote sensors are fascinating as they pick the variations in soil moisture content. Water needs of the different parts of the field can be assessed through thermal, hyper-spectral, and multi-spectral sensors incorporated on these flying technological creatures. Selective and economic application of water resources on fields is achieved as supplementary water is timeously channelled towards parched sections of the field.
On the contrary, the drowning out of crops is avoided by committing smaller amounts of water to usually wetter patches of the field. If contrasted to traditional irrigation scheduling techniques, drones are inimitable in water management as they provide up to date data on total crop water use throughout the growing season. Their effective tracking system bestows upon them even the ability to track water use per individual plant!
Crop health assessment
By hovering low over crops, unmanned aerial vehicles can detect if a plant is attacked by pests or disease. This detection occurs approximately eight days before the astute eye of a sharp witted farmer can pick anything on the crop! Through visible and near-infrared light (NIR) sensors, drones can spot plant heat stress early since they capture changes in photosynthetic activity.
It is these changes that reflect either an increase or decrease in chlorophyll to suggest the existence or non-existence of disease, pests, or nutrient deficiency in plants. Farmers can thus react quickly before plant diseases can spread through large portions of their fields. Swift containment of disease sanctions farmers to evade the pervasive out-turns of crop disease, pests, and insects.
Drones in livestock management
Although there is still ongoing research in this area, drones are a force to reckon with in animal husbandry. Some farmers elsewhere in the world are flying drones to inspect the status of troughs on their farms. The technology has also demonstrated potential for monitoring the health of each animal on any given ranch. Beguiling stories are narrated of drones that can conduct routine checks on ranch fences.
This is done after commands have been executed and saved on the drone indicating the boundaries of the ranch in question. Apart from this, unmanned aerial vehicles can examine watering, track or search for lost livestock. Fruitful experiments have proven that drones can herd livestock once the animals have become conditioned to the device.
Endless drone possibilities
Possibilities associated with unmanned aerial vehicles in agriculture cannot be enumerated. Drones provide crop yield estimates, perform crop inventories quickly, and simplify surveying during agricultural planning. Some are used to scare away pests by parroting birds of prey.
One is bewildered by what drones can do for farmers. Instead of sulking over economic challenges Zimbabwean farmers need to be swept away by the miraculous potential of this innovation.
Oga Chapwanya is an academic, marketing researcher, writer, trainer and educationist.For feedback and comments: [email protected] +263773202624