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How farmers are using drones for better crops?

Look up at the sky. It's a bird, it's a plane, it's a—drone?

If you're on one of many American farms today, seeing a drone buzzing around over the fields isn't quite so uncommon. In fact, today's farmers are embracing all sorts of smart technology to help them to better grow and manage their crops. Drones are just one of the methods many are using.

While farmer-deployed drones aren't all that new in the industry, many consumers don't realize how exactly they're being used. Here, you'll learn three unique ways drones are helping farmers.

But first, a quick overview on drones.

What Are Drones?

Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles, have been around for nearly 40 years. While you're probably familiar with them when it comes to military-use and cool videos on YouTube, there are all sorts of practical applications for drones today, including farming.

In the farming industry, drones are equipped with cameras, as well as specialized lenses, that can help with infrared sensors, to monitor the land. The images and readings taken while the drone is in the air are recorded and analyzed by software. Farmers can then use this information, along with advanced agricultural computer programs, to make decisions on everything from crop rotation to livestock management.

Below are a few specific ways farmers use drones today.

1. Monitoring Crop Health

Even if you're not a farmer yourself, you probably have a pretty good idea of what a field of crops looks like. Just picture yourself in the middle of a corn maze. Take a look around and you can see that, from your vantage point on the ground, it's pretty much impossible to tell which crops are healthy and which have damage. Now, imagine you had to look through acres and acres of crops. That's a time-consuming process and one area where drones can help.

Farmers can schedule drones to take flight daily or even multiple times a day, and collect images from all of their fields. Once the gathered information is downloaded to a computer, a farmer's trained eye can easily spot areas where there are damaged crops. This makes it much easier for them to zero in on the problem spots and come up with solutions to get the crops back on track.

2. Keeping an Eye on Irrigation

When crops are sick, water is one of the most common culprits. Too little water, too much water or bad draining can lead to all sorts of crop damage—and a farmer might not know there's an issue until it's too late. Irrigation is such a critical part of farming, but with miles and miles of area to cover, it's critical to keep an eye on the system.

Here's where drones can help. Farmers can add thermal sensors on their drones which identify dry spots in the soil. It might indicate that an irrigation system has broken down and needs fixing. Images from drones can also highlight how the natural drainage of land is mapped out. That's an advantage when it comes to planting, as certain areas are better for specific crops based on water drainage.

3. Managing Weeds

Pesky weeds and fungus can wreak havoc on crops—and it's critical to stop these from spreading from a few crops to an entire field before it's too late. Traditional methods of trying to spot-treat crops are difficult and time-consuming. Usually, a large section of a field would be sprayed with herbicides or pesticides, potentially damaging healthy crops and adding more chemicals into the soil.

With drones, farmers can spot-treat small areas of damaged crops with herbicides or pesticides when needed, without having to spray large areas or potentially impacting the soil. The drones, equipped with reservoir attachments, hold smaller amounts of spray and are sent out to a single area to treat the damage.

The Future of Farming

Smart farming is a way farmers can keep up with demand and ensure they're producing the best quality crops possible. Drones are just one technological trend that is becoming more commonplace across farms all over America.