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Improve Vegetable Profitability and Reduce Crop Loss with Drone Plant Counts

July 08, 2021

Specialty vegetable crops like cabbage, broccoli, and salad greens are a high-risk, potentially high-reward, business that demands intensive management to be successful. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations estimates that about 20% of fruit and vegetable crop loss occurs in production. Staving off those losses could mean big improvements to each season’s profits, but only if you can identify the root cause of crop loss.

Losses can result from imprecise crop management or simply unknown causes making improvement difficult. Having an accurate whole-field crop assessment opens the door for loss identification, more precise management decisions, and higher profit. But this type of comprehensive crop scouting simply can’t be done on foot.

More Production Means Higher Profit

Field losses in high-value crops like cabbage can be significant. Cabbage losses can skyrocket as much as 60% from improper early weed management. Even with attentive management, an average of 5-10% of the crop still fails in the field and thus the bottom line.

Plants Damaged During Weed Management
The drone image shows an example of early crop loss that can occur during the weed management.

Based on 2020 US harvest yields and values, increasing marketable cabbage harvest by just one percent would net an additional $731 in gross profit/acre (United States Department of Agriculture, 2021). Improve three percent and you can expect an additional $2,913/acre. Recapture five percent? That’s a whopping $3,656/acre from what you’ve already planted.

Solving The Mystery of Crop Loss

The benefits of reducing crop loss are obvious, but the sources of loss are not. Many factors affect field crop loss, both within and beyond a grower’s control including:

  • Stock: seed or transplant quality
  • Environmental: soil type, compaction/drainage, soil type, and extreme weather impacts
  • Management: planting depth, mechanical issues, irrigation, weed control

All of these factors can contribute to poor crop establishment and the bigger culprits of crop loss — reduced plant stands and uneven plant growth.

Reduced plant stands result in lower yields and variable crop quality. Clearly, the more healthy plants you have in the field, the more efficient your resource use and harvest potential can be. But a lack of plant uniformity is equally critical to maximum harvest potential. Crop uniformity improves efficiency in cultural practices like fertilizer side-dressing timing or herbicide application, harvest timing, and even marketable crop grade.

Most growers know that these problems inhibit their harvest but aren’t sure exactly which ones nor how to correct them. A precise visual field inventory can reveal these mysteries, but whole-field scouting on foot is time-consuming, subjective, and impractical.

Solvi’s Plant Counts Shows The Big Picture

Plant counts from drone-collected imagery provide comprehensive and objective insights within minutes. The results generate more than a field map. They are a combination of location-specific data and statistical analysis that give you a visual action plan to improve farm profits.

Drone-based Plant Counts
Plant Counts from drone-collected imagery counts every single cabbage plant in the field and gives an accurate and detailed overview of the early crop establishment.

Solvi’s Plant Counts with Plant AI™ uses your drone imagery to provide a complete view of every row in your field. Our deep-learning algorithms then perform the statistical analysis for you to visually highlight trouble spots. Now you can stop wandering the field and can save time by walking directly to hot spots for diagnosis.

Five Ways Drone Analytics Improve Vegetable Production

Here are five ways a detailed plant count can help you precisely manage this year’s vegetable crop:

  1. Identify crop loss patterns and locations. Drone field imagery creates a visual map to quickly pinpoint problem zones for evaluation. Depending upon the identified source, growers may consider their economic threshold to replant or reseed, management decisions to mitigate problems, or changes in labor or cultural practices to avoid future losses.
  2. Assess crop development. Aerial plant counts also render accurate plant size measurements which help growers evaluate fertility application timing, their crop’s response to fertilizers, and crop maturity for harvest.
  3. Predict yield. Knowing the accurate size and plant counts for each field allows growers to accurately anticipate harvest yield and communicate with contract buyers.
  4. Maximize labor efficiency. Schedule harvest labor and pick when the bulk of your crop is at marketable or contract grade.
  5. Improve harvest quantity. Assess the economic return from a second harvest in crops like broccoli based on remaining counts and plant size.

Solvi Simplifies Drone Analytics

Converting detailed sensor imagery to usable data may sound complicated, but we handle the deep math. Solvi’s easy-to-use software provides precision crop analytics in less than 30 minutes to anyone - without a Ph.D. in statistics.

Here’s how it works:

  • Collect field imagery at key decision-making times (after planting or weed management; before anticipated harvest)
  • Upload your drone imagery file (We accept RGB or multispectral files from any drone camera.)
  • Receive an accurate number of plants in the field and a visual overview of plant size variability.
  • If necessary, use a GPS location tool to walk directly to trouble spots for localized diagnosis

Solvi also offers ‘done for you’ analytics services. Outsource your analytics for high-volume users or complex setups. Our support team handles the work for you and provides the same precise results within a day. We’ll do the data, you do the decisions.

Precision Management Starts With An Actionable Insights

Unlike commodity crops, vegetable crops are held to strict grading standards requiring near-perfect quality in a limited, perishable timeframe. This pressure necessitates intensive and precise management for the greatest crop profitability.

Plant Counts from drone field imagery allows you, for the first time, to view a complete and accurate field inventory. This perspective can help reveal the mysteries of crop loss in your fields and provide essential pre-harvest data to estimate yield and optimize harvest.

Try Solvi’s Plant Counts today and see the bigger picture for your bottom line this season through improved crop management.


Solvi is leading the way in drone analytics for farmers, agronomists, and plant breeders who want actionable insights from their data.Learn more about Solvi’s complete solution for drone-based crop monitoring and sign up for a free trial.