Drones are becoming commonplace in agriculture, providing farmers with the opportunity to apply techniques and methods with more precision: hence the term precision agriculture.
However one company is now assisting ag professionals with the opportunity to make use of the same aerial data gathered by drones to improve sustainable practices.
Undertaking sustainable practices is increasingly becoming a topic of importance for major companies, with 85% of companies in the S&P 500 reporting on sustainable intitiatives this year, equating to a 65% increase from seven years ago.
The pressure from the public for companies to focus on sustainable accountability has become so salient that Yahoo Finance have even added a tab to their company profile pages to rank that company’s sustainability.
Kansas-based precision agriculture company AgEagle point out however that for food manufacturers, there is not always a transparent chain of sustainability. Monitoring the practices of the farmers from which they buy ingredients is not yet common practice, and AgEagle want to help close this gap.
Already, aerial data gathered by AgEagle for the purpose of precision agriculture helps farmers reduce the amount of fertilizers and pesticides they use, improving crop yield whilst also reducing impact on the environment.
According to the US Geological Survey, without the benefit of aerial data gleaned from drones, up to 50% of fertilizers miss their targets, and Goldman Sachs reports that 15-50% of crop yield is lost due to inadequate application of fertilizers.
Use of techniques such as identification of problem areas using multispectral and thermal sensors, and subsequent application of fertilizers and pesticides to these areas with variable rate technology allows farmers to improve these figures.
AgEagle has already shown that using such techniques can result in increased net profits for farmers, and now they are turning their eyes to improved outcomes for the planet, also.
Sustainable practices in farming look to reduce impacts through managing water and energy usage, soil health and nutrients, pests and chemical usage.
To assist farmers in following such practices in a way that allows the food companies who buy their crops maintain a transparent chain of sustainability from field to shelf, AgEagle have now introduced a Sustainable Field Index (ASFI), leveraging the advanced aerial data and analytics they already provide for precision agriculture.
The index monitors and tracks six key areas to establish a baseline index for a participating farm: aerial imagery, soil sampling, insects, stand count, chemicals and weather.
Reduction of the amount of chemicals required for a profitable yield is important in sustainable agriculture practices, but it is excess water usage that the World Economic Forum says has the greatest impact on the environment.
Implementation of the ASFI into farms supplying crops to food manufacturers will allow these farms to not only reduce costs of chemical applications but also to identify areas of water stress and make informed decisions that result in less water usage.
Bret Chilcott, CEO of AgEagle says, “As the first drone-based aerial imagery company that intends to provide customized services to sustainability departments of major food companies, we will have the opportunity to define how sustainability on the farm is measured.”
By using the data gained from AgEagle’s to perform early season, mid season, and post season analytics, farmers can improve yields and undertake quarterly reviews.
Consequently, companies will be able to track and reach sustainability goals in a manner that is transparent and accountable.
“By establishing the AgEagle Sustainable Field Index (ASFI) and working closely with the food manufacturer and the farmer, we can set a standard benchmark, track and measure progress on established goals and provide reporting data to demonstrate progress and influence watchdog assessment metrics,” says Chilcott.
With watchdogs keeping an eye of the sustainable report cards of companies these days, the use of drones in agriculture certainly presents an opportunity for corporations to improve their practices.
Even though some may deride such pressure to change irresponsible corporate behaviour, surely the increase in profits from better use of resources and increased buying due to increased consumer trust will continue to usher in an ‘age of drones’ in agriculture.