August 2016. A member involved in research on drones – used for pest surveillance – sent the report below:
This technology can be useful for almost every crop. For both coconuts and oil palm it will show yellowing, leaf drop, and dead plants just as a flight with a manned aircraft can, however drones can do it at a very low price. There are limitations with tree crops however as the drone can disappear from line of sight once the drone moves off and away over the canopy so there is always some risk of losing it. Also the range of the drone is limited by the battery life. For larger areas conventional manned aircraft or satellite imagery is generally used. The advantage of using a drone however is the increased resolution of the imagery – in the case of plants such as coconuts and bananas individual leaves can be made out clearly.
The images obtained from UAV’s are only the beginning though and after the flights you need to ground truth the problems to see if they have been caused by insects, disease, waterlogging and numerous other factors before you can manage the problem(s). Over time however you will get a pretty good idea of what a problem might be by learning whether it is individual trees, adjoining plants in the row, an expanding area, etc.
This approach is presently being developed with bananas, sugarcane and several other crops using drones to detect chlorophyll levels with a camera that has both normal colour (RGB) and near infra-red sensors (NIR). By all means feel free to to contact me directly if you’d like to discuss further rather than on Pestnet and I may be able to answer any questions, although there is quite a lot of information online too. There are forums for use of drones in agriculture.
The EU’s CTA had a special issue of ICT Update on drones for agriculture – April 2016 Issue no. 82. http://ictupdate.cta.int/(issue)/82