Precision farming is getting more popular in these times of increased drought and erratic rainfall. Farmers can deal with drought by using accurate data, based on reliable drone imagery analysis with software, such as Agremo. It allows them to make quick decisions and take timely action to protect their crops and investment.
Traditional drought detection process
Traditionally, a farmer scouts the farm by walking across it. Even when external symptoms are present, a visual inspection cannot provide a good insight into the intensity of stress that a crop is facing.
The person scouting the fields would have to be well-versed in the development of the symptoms that occur as drought stress progresses in a plant. For example, leaf curling in corn in the morning is a sign of mild drought. As drought intensifies, the leaf will remain curled for longer. Under extreme conditions, leaves will turn grey.
Due to small differences in soil or topography, a single farm can have plants at various stages of drought stress. In a situation where water is scarce, it is better to ration irrigation as needed and also save costs.
Determining how to distribute water would be impossible with traditional scouting methods. Also, walking across a small percentage of land may not give enough information about other unvisited areas. Thus, the decision a farmer makes will not be accurate enough for them to protect their crops.
Farmers also scout their fields to assess harvest time depending on the condition of the crop during drought. In situations where most of the field is affected by drought, they may want to harvest early to prevent further losses. If drought is less intense or covers less area, then farmers can afford to wait for further crop development.
The effect of drought on plants will depend on the growing stage of the crop. At the seedling stage, severe drought can wipe out a whole crop, as the tender small plants cannot survive. During crop development, when plants are growing, they can survive mild droughts but plant health can be impacted. It is possible to notice that plants are smaller and have fewer leaves while roots grow deeper. The most damage to the yield is caused if a drought occurs during mid-season, that is, during flowering and grain filling stages.
The growth stage which is most impacted by drought will differ based on the crops. For corn, as with many other grains, the mid-seasonal drought can be most devastating.
Some crops are more sensitive to drought than others. As research published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology shows, while rice suffered only 3% losses, a single drought event can cause 8% crop loss in wheat and 7% in corn and soy.
For any farmer, this is a huge loss to suffer. However, if they use precision farming to detect water stress even before visible symptoms appear, they could contain damage to the plant.
Crop monitoring and risk assessment with precision farming
Precision farming methods improve drought management through rapid and reliable monitoring and risk assessment, by identifying differences in plant performance within a farm.
Agricultural drought depends on the intensity of water scarcity, soil conditions, the soil type, crop variety, and growth stage – all of which are also important for the final response to water stress.
Due to variations in farms and localities, even experts find it impossible to calculate where agricultural stress will occur. The only way to check if a crop is suffering is to actually measure what is happening on the field.
As a means to mitigate drought effects, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has designed a new toolbox for dealing with drought. They recommend:
- Vulnerability and risk assessment
Effective drought management is possible with existing technology we have, such as drone imagery analysis.
Using drone imagery analysis
To use drone imagery analysis, a farmer has to get images of their farms, stitch, and analyze them. Next, based on the results of the analysis, they can make an informed decision.
- Images: For a farm-level analysis, high-resolution images of the farm only are necessary. Farmers can get this by using a camera mounted on a drone. A lot of drone operators offer their services, and they can be found with an online search. Alternatively, a farmer can decide to buy a drone for the frequent application of precision farming.
- Map: A map of the entire farm has to be produced by “stitching” photos of the different parts of a field. Online software firms, such as DroneDeploy, provide solution to stitch farm images.
- Analysis: The image analysis has to be done using image analysis software. Agremo offers Drought Analysis that is customized to find water-stress. Upload the map to our app, choose the analysis, specify the crop, and its growth stage. Within 48 hours, you will receive a report containing the results checked by our team of agronomists.
Agremo Drought Analysis estimates drought stress and divides a farm into three zones based on whether they are suffering from:
- Extreme drought
- Potential drought
- No drought
The entire process can be quick and finished in a matter of days, meaning that data collection and analysis can support instant decisions.
About Agremo Drought Analysis
Agremo’s algorithms have been developed by analyzing thousands of acres and are customized for each crop. This is because each species differs in shape, color, and other plant characteristics. The analyses see more than differences in color and go beyond NDVI reports which measure only the greenness of crops.
Agremo analyses are based on spectral and hyperspectral data of crops and a host of vegetation indices to find out if the plants are suffering from drought. They also help determine the extent of damage the plants have already suffered. The analysis takes into consideration the texture, growth stage, vegetation, and Leaf Area Index. The spectral data is very important, as not only plants but also water has a specific spectral signature which can be used to see how much of it is present in plants.
Drought Analysis is best done during the growing season, especially mid-season for corn, as that is when it is most sensitive to drought.
Besides corn and other field crops, Agremo Drought Analysis is also suitable for vegetables, orchards, and plantations.
Decisions and implementation
Agremo Drought Analysis report has two sections: one is a map with the field divided into three intensities of drought, and the other is a document that shows the actual acreage under each category. Each category is defined in terms of percentages (of the whole field).
The farmer now has all the information he needs to decide what to do next.
- Zones that are marked under extreme drought need maximum correction treatment for crop recovery, such as immediate and frequent irrigation with sufficient quantities of water.
- Crops in zones with no drought can get regular irrigation applications.
- Crops in zones marked as potential drought could be suffering mild water stress, so irrigating these areas immediately will prevent any drought stress and its ill effects.
The advantage of using Agremo Drought Analysis is a timely stress detection, which can help farmers:
- Prevent yield loss by supplying enough water at the right time to maintain crop health
- Proactively water areas where drought may be developing
- Adjust the irrigation so that only the required amount of water is used, and in the right place
- Save water and machine costs by reducing irrigation applications
- Decide when to harvest crops
- Improve the use of fertilizer and manure by providing adequate water
- Increase yield by providing the entire farm with ideal growing conditions
- Improve ROI by saving costs and increasing yields
Drought losses can be limited
Drought is the most important and most frequent stress that crops face. Depending on the crop, water can make up 50% to 90% of a plant. This means that a decrease in water availability can have a substantial impact on any plant.
Drought has reduced global crop yield by 10% between 1964-2007. To feed the growing population, we have to improve the yield by 2.4%. To meet the challenges of a changing climate, we have to change the ways we grow food.
The new methods used in precision farming can help farmers to grow more on their land by using fewer resources, such as water. As a result, they increase their profits and also help to feed fast-growing humanity.