The technological advancement of unmanned aircraftσ or drones and the reduction in production costs have led them to become more available to a larger buyers group for research, professional or entertainment reasons. One of the most appropriate uses is agriculture and, in particular, precision farming. Drones can work for the benefit of agriculture, increasing agricultural production, improving competitiveness and making it profitable. The drones are equipped with an autopilot using the GPS and a standard point-and-shoot camera controlled by the autopilot. Software on the ground can stitch the aerial shots into a high-resolution mosaic map. Proper use of drones results in saving resources and inputs, supporting the sustainable development of the rural enterprise.
Drones can provide farmers with three kinds of detailed views. First, observing a crop from the air can reveal irrigation problems up to soil change or parasiticides and fungal attacks that are not apparent at the eye level. Secondly, airborne cameras can receive multi-spectral images, capturing infrared and optical spectrum data, which can be combined to create a view of the culture that points out the differences between healthy and problematic plants in a way that they are not visible to the naked eye. Finally, a drone can see a crop every week, every day, or even every hour, with the ability to create a moving time series presenting crop changes and revealing points of trouble or opportunities for better crop management.
Throughout the cultivation cycle, drones contribute as follows:
The cost of acquiring an agricultural drone ranges between $ 1,500 and $ 25,000, depending on the range of operations offered. Market research is available here and here. The basic parameters of evaluating a drone in relation to our needs are (a) observation and recording functions, (b) data analysis capabilities, (c) species and condition separation, (d) status evaluation and (e) designing and applying patterns and cultivation strategies. According to scientists specializing in this technology, the long-term integration of drones as a method of optimizing cultivation leads to money savings.
Analyzing the data collected by drones is an important issue as there is a difference of opinion as to who the data belongs to: the drone operator or the farmer himself. Although there are clearly cases of data that are purely public goods (eg weather conditions, soil quality, etc.), there are data (eg crop type, plant health, planting density, etc.) related to the producer. The commercial exploitation of the data can provide additional revenue to drones businesses, corresponding to businesses that trade mailing lists or customer data, simultaneously leading to a moral issue. Open data may prove to be a one-way solution to the issue, against time-consuming negotiations and complex legal interpretations, as the use of precision farming data only has positive external economies of scale. Additionally, an industry of precision, open and personalized farming software can be created.
All of the above-described capabilities are still inaccessible, due to cost, for small-scale farms, resulting in unequal distribution of benefits, unless public or private bodies are involved in the collective service of small farms, thereby reducing the per farmer or field cost.