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5 ways drones can help farmers in spring

March 14, 2019

Throughout the whole growing season, drone images can be a good tool for farmers to make their work more effective. Already in spring, drones can be used in the field to help answer important questions: How was the establishment of winter crops and how has the winter affected the crops? Where do I need to reduce or increase the seed rate next time? Should I change the time of fertilization? Where do I have weed problems?

Evaluate crop establishment

Before winter wheat begins to grow and enter stroke phase, a map based on drone imagery can help evaluate how even the crop is within the field. It can show parts of the field with thinner and denser crop and can serve as a good guide where to look at during the field walks in order to establish the reason for variations. Scouting feature in Solvi shows your GPS position on a map which makes navigating to an area of interest very easy.

Variations map
Drone image clearly shows variations in winter wheat establishment

Winter oilseed crops can be affected a lot by cold winters. If there are not enough plants left in the spring, it may be appropriate to replace it with a spring crop. A plant counting feature could then be a good tool for decision support. In the same way, it can also be used to map establishment of a spring crop in the late spring. Vegetable growers might find plant counts useful to evaluate how the planting of vegetables worked and use it throughout the season to make more precise yield estimations.

Variable rate fertilizer application

The first thing that happens in the spring is usually that the winter oilseed crops get the first half of the planned nitrogen rate. For variable rate application of mineral fertilizer, images from drones taken late in the fall can be used, combined with the “cutting method”. By cutting and weighting 1 m² in parts of the field, selected from the drone images to cover the within-field variation, the nitrogen rate can be calculated to generate a prescription map. Solvi makes it easy to convert this map into a prescription file that can be directly used in spreaders for the first spring nitrogen application. You can read more on this in our previous article. For the cereal crops, drone imagery collected early in the spring can help determine if there are thinner parts of the field that would benefit from early nitrogen application to facilitate the development of roots and side shoots, especially for late sown and slightly sparse stocks.

Variable rate seeding

In case drone images capture the variation in crop establishment and/or soil differences, this can be in future used as a basis for variable rate seeding.

Prescription map
NDVI-index from drone imagery shows variations in crop establishment

Areas of poor establishment, often on stiffer soil, should be sown considerably thicker than lighter soils, where you may instead get too dense and vigorous crops which may result in crop lodging. Areas with more clayey soil have also generally higher crop potential than areas with coarser soil texture. Read more on variable rate seeding in our previous article. It may be useful to map soil variations if you are to decide how to use farm land that you have no previous experience with. For example, drone images can be used to divide fields into different parts for different crops. This could help determine which part of a field fits, for example, for potato cultivation.

Weed control

Weed field
Drone image shows weed spread in the field
Drone image shows weed spread in the field With a high definition RGB camera on a drone, it is relatively easy to map weed spread. This information can then be used during the field walks. In parts where the drone images show that the weed spread is low, you may not need to make any treatment at all. It is also possible to create a variable rate application file and thus reduce the use of herbicides, benefiting both the environment and economy.

Inspect drainage

When the soil dries up in the spring, the drainage system can sometimes be clearly seen, as the soil above the drainage pipes dries up first. Drone images collected on one of these days can be used to make new drainage maps and evaluate how the drainage system works. If the soil type is similar across the field, then the drying should also be fairly even. If the drone maps show areas that dry significantly slower, it may be a sign that something is wrong with drainage system and further investigation may be performed. Simple consumer-grade drones equipped with a camera can be of great help for farmers during the spring. Drone images collected at the right point in time can help decide correct nitrogen rate or vary seed rate during sowing and thus achieve more even crops with higher yield potential. Solvi makes it easy to turn drone images into valuable insights and prescription files that can be directly used in the field.


Curious how using drones can help you get better understanding about crops and allow more effective use of resources? Learn more about Solvi and sign up for a free trial today.