Agriculture has seen a lot of new tools appear on the market in the past five to ten years, promising great yield increases, input reductions and cost efficiencies. Yet the act of farming has not changed significantly over millennia. Crops still need to be planted, managed, inspected, nurtured, and harvested.
The competitive nature of the market has, however, placed new pressure on the farmer to get the maximum yield from his crop, while forcing him or her protect the bottom line in any way possible. Thus the need to keep a close eye on the crop has become pertinent.
And that is exactly where DroneClouds comes in to help.
We found that the drone and satellite space can be fraught with confusing and distracting messages. Companies mention things like “exponential technology” and “first mover advantage” with “crop overview functionality” and “high precision input and harvesting”. And often the question remains: “What should I pick? Which is the right tool?”
What we at DroneClouds do is help the farmer find “sad plants” (crops under stress) using a combination of satellite and drone technologies, some advanced processing, and some expert insight. Using our platform, we can often spot the plants under stress long before the plants show physical stress, as we use the infrared and red-edge spectra to highlight areas invisible to the human eye. That way we close the loop on the plant insight, and show the farmer where to focus his/her efforts, while allowing the him to simultaneously link in his local crop- or agri-chemical supply expert, to help make sense of what it is that they see.
So no more wondering what the right tool for your specific crop or farm should be! No more missing spots in the field. Rather, actionable information and insight, delivered at minimum every ten days, to your inbox, no matter where you are in the world.
So how do we do it?
We make use of scientifically calibrated drones and satellites that monitor the leaf-level health and moisture in the plants. After capturing the data, we process it using a few algorithms that highlight certain issues in the plant’s health, and show where there are moisture deficiencies.
That way, the farmer can be sure to get unbiased imagery, maps and insight, and knows where to take relevant steps to ensure the success of the crop.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Our satellite product allows the farmer to get this insight on a 10-meter resolution (or 100 sample points per hectare) every ten days (clouds permitting), directly to his inbox, and includes a person helping them make sense of it the first time.
Our drone products take it a step further. With the drone we can drill down to between a 2 and ten centimeter resolution (meaning up to 25 million sample points per hectare). Thus we can measure and track every plant individually, allowing specific care to be given to individual, high value crops such as trees, tree-fruits and nuts.
With the drones we not only measure the plant health and moisture, but also measure the plant height, the 3-D lay of the land (contours, elevation and aspect), exact field sizes and can draw highly accurate leaf-level statistics to monitor each and every individual plant across the season.
But, what are the benefits?
Not only can the farmer keep track of the health of his crop, but being able to see where the crop is under stress, and understanding what gives rise to such strain allows him to:
- Monitor his irrigation for blocked pipes and mis-calibrations
- Find areas where pests and/or disease occur, and treat only the relevant areas with precision
- Save water through precision irrigation and maintenance
- Save pesticide and herbicide through targeted application
- Protect the harvest through targeted scouting and management practices, to hit back at crop problems before they become BIG problems
- Increase yield by optimising his field selection, resource allocation and specific monitoring
- Increase the quality of his yield, which opens up greater export and value markets.
- Save time by highlighting areas to be visited and improved
- Monitor activity and improvement across his farming portfolio
- Provide unbiased proof of action and crop cover should a disaster event occur
During full scientific, A-B tests, we have measured as much as a 29% yield increase on citrus, with a 33% water use reduction. Although this is an outlier, we regularly observe increases of between 4% and 10% on crops as diverse as wheat, maize, citrus, canola and feed-crop. Not only have we measured this across multiple crop types, but also in multiple climatic areas, from foggy, rainy highlands to arid, drought-stricken plains.
Large agricultural clients trust us too
We have been the proud trusted suppliers of highly scientific crop measurements and data to both Bayer (Pty) Ltd, and Monsanto, on various crop trials across South Africa. We provide statistical analysis and scientifically calibrated veracity, and acted as independent verifier of increased effect of Bayer’s Aviator product (see case study).
DroneClouds was also the winner of the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and Airbus Defense and Space (ADS) challenge, which allowed the team to visit Airbus in Toulouse, France, and work hand-in-hand with them to create an African solution.
Footprint and channel
By working both directly with farmers, and through their agri-agents, we have been able to grow our presence across sub-Saharan Africa, with requests for imagery coming from as far afield as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria and Zambia. Anybody can draw his/her farm on our online portal, no matter where you are in the world. It even allows you to do so on your mobile!
As the satellites are in constant orbit around the world, and we have pilot-partnerships with drone pilots throughout Africa and further afield, we can service almost any part of the continent.
And because our product has been developed with our continent in mind, we are constantly learning from our clients, constantly improving and making it easier to access, and always trying to keep the cost relevant to the local, African market.
That is why our introductory offer of $75.00 (R950.00) per month for the full satellite product over any farm up to 10 000 hectares makes such sense. We wanted to bring the value usually available only to large-scale farmers in areas like the US and Europe, to farmers here.
On drones and what to look for
We know that the drone space is rapidly changing, and the seemingly newest “best thing” changes daily.
What we have found, though, is to focus on what is really important: the relevant crop, sensor and requisite data.
So as drones become more ubiquitous in the sky (Africa is fast approaching 3 million civilian drones in its airspace), allow us to share a few hard-earned learnings:
- The drone is just the vehicle for the sensor. Get a good one that will fit the area that you want to observe. If the area is large fields, a fixed-wing drone makes more sense, like the senseFly eBee SQ. For small areas, or areas where elephants eat your crop, a multi-rotor like the DJI Phantom 2 or 3 (elephants associate their buzzing with that of bees).
- Test, test again, and try a third time. Don’t buy a drone in haste. Rather try a few, and find what works best for you.
- Get the correct sensors. If you want to observe plant health, a Near Infra-Red (NIR/NDVI) sensor is required.
- Understand that buying the drone is only the first step. Often, image processing software, extra training, insurance, extra batteries and spares (and a very large credit limit) is required. At DroneClouds we have learned to cut through that, by allowing farmers to send us their images, and we will process it for them.
- There is no such thing as a silver bullet. What may work in one area, might not work in another. Small fields are very expensive to measure with a drone, depending on the relevant crop. Satellites make more sense over fields of single, uniform crops like maize and wheat.
- Remember that seeing the problem area is only the first step.
And when you do decide to buy a drone, keep the following in mind.
- Make sure that your supplier has a service network or capability in your country. There is nothing as frustrating as having to wait for spares.
- Fly safely, and learn to manage your batteries (when operating battery-powered drones) or fuel (for fuel-powered craft). Rather err on the side of caution, than having to go look for a lost drone.
- When flying in a country with licensing requirements, get yourself licensed. It might be difficult or a hassle, but the economic opportunities for qualified drone pilots around the world, especially in Africa, is rapidly increasing. By being a qualified pilot, and connecting to your local Civil Unmanned Aviation Association (like CUAASA for Southern Africa) allows you to keep up to date with new rules, regulations, and industry expectations. It also allows others to refer work to you in times where the farming season is slow.
- Have fun. It is a very young, rapidly changing and very exciting opportunity, especially here in Africa. We have diverse weather, topography, climate and laws, which makes it an amazing place to fly. And once you have seen the benefits that the drone industry can bring to your farm, we don’t think you’d want to go back.
- Remember: hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen.
- And always more sunscreen.
Want to know more?
Come visit our page: www.droneclouds.com or read more here: