When the first satellite was launched to explore the space, one could hardly imagine that it would be utilized for farming needs. Their destination was new Galaxies, not the fields. Nowadays, advanced technologies enable us to observe the Earth in almost real time and use the data for the unlimited scope of applications, including agriculture.
With new competitive options, the question arises, why use satellites if there are agriculture drones? To clear up the matter, we need to find out what one device type can do while the other can’t and how they are able to complement each other.
When it comes to precision, drones for farming have no rivals. They can come close to the earth and make shots distinguishing a weed from a crop or show each particular plant when diseases or pests are in question. Drones can approach the surface on a very narrow angle that allows creating 3D models. However, when high precision is not required, high-resolution imagery seems unnecessary.
There are also cases when UAVs and satellites don’t compete but complement each other. When you spot a problem area on the satellite image, you can actualize it either with a drone or the Scouting app and tackle the issue correspondingly.
Here is a brief comparison of possibilities and advantages:
- A satellite’s scope is vaster: it catches the whole territory at once. Monitoring with drones takes more time and may require several UAV flights.
- A spatial image is complete: there is no need to stitch several shots taken by drones into one orthographic plan and no ‘mosaicing’ effect.
- Satellite imagery is geo-referenced and thus gives the location of the problem area in the field.
- Neither pilot/UAV operator nor licenses/allowances are required. Drones for agriculture are to be operated by trained specialists with flight licenses obtained from the authorities.
- Satellite-driven data are stored in archives. Thus, you can time travel and see what happened in the area in the needed retrospective. Having this information, you can easily analyze the tendencies in the region. You can track the regular problems in the fields and decide if this land is worth buying like Clay Mitchell from Iowa does. Drone shots depict the current state of events only.
How are drones used in agriculture apart from monitoring?
Satellites and crop dusting drones efficiently complement one another. On the other hand, there are other features that they possess solely.
Satellites can provide the following information:
- measure microwave radiation on our planet;
- predict rainfalls or droughts, extreme weather events;
- determine the soil composition;
- show the stage of crop development;
- indicate problem areas, inefficient or uncultivated zones;
- estimate current and future yields;
- give the dynamics of agricultural activities (when compared to the previous years).
This enables to make decisions as to nutrient application, constructing drainage tiles, extra water supply, etc.
Drone surveillance can prevent thefts; they show the process of watering and PPE application in detail. These nuances are too fine for satellite images.
Limitations to aerial observations
1. Weather conditions. Drones fly below the clouds so the cloudy weather is still ok for them. Yet, they are sensitive to winds. Anyway, weather conditions are but temporary.
2. Area scope. Certain restrictions make using drones totally impossible. Thus, they are prohibited in the vicinity of controlled areas like military objects or airports.
Drones are to be visible to the operator, so their usage is restricted in space as well. Besides, utilizing them over neighbouring territories should be often agreed with other farmers who might not like when you record their fields as well.
3. Time. Satellites fly around the Earth within a certain interval of time, i.e. every 3 or 5 days. When you need to check the area immediately, it is faster to set off a drone.
Drone productiveness greatly depends on their batteries. So their duration of usage is limited.
4. Price. Farming drones are not cheap, either to buy or to hire. The vaster the monitored area, the higher the expenses are. A satellite covers the whole territory with one shot, no matter how big it is.
Drones are good to survey small areas or when high precision is needed. Satellites are a perfect balance of suitable resolution and analyzed area. They are cheaper almost in 100% cases.
5. Digital data processing. Spatial imagery can be interpreted in the cloud agricultural platforms that provide access to many tools while farmers have to process drone shots with external software. This adds to costs as well.
Crop monitoring – your eye in the sky
Depending on the purpose, it is rational to use either satellites or drones or to combine them. Perhaps, observation with satellites is a good way to start as it is simpler, more available and cost-effective than agriculture drones. Platforms like Crop Monitoring can give you the best result for your money.
This online platform provides satellite monitoring and related services. It does not only offer recent and historical field records but enables its users:
- to create NDVI, EVI, SAVI, ARVI, GCI, NDWI vegetation indices;
- to automate the field state monitoring with alerts;
- to perform crop zoning and classification;
- to manage weather risks (winter kill, cold and hot shocks);
- to identify crop growth stages;
- to predict yields;
- to optimize fertilizer application;
- to compare field performance with average trends in the region;
- to scout fields (including task management and synchronization).
So, what is better – satellites or drones for agriculture
With satellites and drones, agriculture experiences drastic changes for the better. Recent innovations enable farmers to inspect their fields easier. As a result, they can yield higher harvests.
Obviously, the choice comes out of everyone’s needs. When it comes to big farms, the possibility to survey vast territories is far more important than high-quality images. So, in this case, spatial imagery is not only more than enough.
They also provide farmers with regular automated updates and don’t require additional software to process the imagery obtained. With satellite monitoring, there is no need to buy and install hardware. Online platforms provide access to all needed tools for data interpretation. You don’t have to get licenses or hire trained pilots.
Big platforms offer you the ‘all-inclusive’ package to manage your fields without headaches, and target to make farming more productive, taking every single detail into account. Without extra expenses, satellites monitor all risks. As a result, agrarians can notice all threats in time and respond promptly to improve the situation.
This is a win-win strategy. First, you not only save money utilizing more expensive technologies only when they are really required. Second, you make more money tackling the problem immediately thus preventing losses.