Making precision farming in Africa possible with cost efficient data capture

Information from senseFly

Today’s agricultural industry faces many challenges: increased global demand for food production, changing climate patterns, increased cost of farming inputs, and the resulting effect these have on commodity prices amid a downward trend in global supply. 

To meet the growing global demand and provide local food security, the average yield per hectare must increase while farmers find new ways to reduce their input costs. To overcome these challenges, agriculture professionals are looking to new technologies, such as mapping drones, to derive new and better insights about their crops, improve their yields, and enhance their sustainability.

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How can mapping drones increase agricultural production in Africa?

It’s no longer necessary to rely on sampling alone to guide decision-making. Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are leading the way in precision farming, enabling yield and crops within entire fields to be accurately mapped and monitored. 

UAVs help digitise agriculture and offer farmers access to reliable data, which gives them the insights they need and additional flexibility to improve their operations, such as adjusting fertiliser prescriptions, managing water resources with topographic data, or identifying crop diseases before they wreak havoc and financial loss.

While vast areas of farmland and fields have traditionally proven too costly or difficult to map, drones, specifically fixed-wing drones such as senseFly’s new eBee Ag, overcome this challenge by helping agriculture professionals quickly and affordably monitor and map large areas thanks to their efficiency and extended flight times.

This efficiency is necessary if you are managing thousands of hectares – you need a drone that can go the distance. The eBee Ag is capable of a flight time of up to 55 minutes, allowing the drone to autonomously cover more than 160 hectares in a single flight, saving time and money compared to conventional scouting or multiple flights with a quadcopter drone.

Overcoming the learning curve

senseFly designed the eBee Ag with simplicity in mind. Farmers have little time to learn entirely new technologies, so ease of use is important, and compared to other solutions, the eBee platform offers a complete solution (hardware and software) that is quick to deploy without a steep learning curve. 

This important advantage allows farmers to focus on gathering timely imagery for assessing crop health and development over an entire season without the hassle and less opportunity for error.

The senseFly drone is a tested and proven platform, having already enabled customers to reduce fertiliser application by 20% and increase in yields in already competitive sectors by between 10% and 17% (see any of these case studies).

Ways for growers to boost production while reducing costs

Precise crop health monitoring and treatment

In maize, wheat and other staple grass family crops, multispectral vegetative indexes such as NDVI are excellent tools for measuring crop health over entire fields and identifying plant stress not visible to the naked eye. 

The eBee Ag features senseFly’s Duet M dual-purpose drone camera which captures both RGB and multispectral data in a single flight to help growers make better decisions on the ground for managing nutrient deficiency, drought, crop disease and insect damage.

Using field maps created in Pix4Dfields software, agronomists and farmers can intervene with localised treatments, focusing only on areas that showed the most stress. This helps save resources and reduce costs by tailoring treatment applications to specific plants in need.

Detecting fertiliser deficiency

Nitrogen is the most critical nutrient in maize production. It is responsible for green growth that promotes photosynthesis, better cob formation, grain quality and increased yields. And it is in high demand globally.

According to the World Bank Group, phosphates and urea prices surged by 24% in the first quarter of 2021, reflecting high demand, supply constraints, and higher input costs. This trend is projected to increase this year, which means farmers need to be more strategic with their applications.

To determine how much fertiliser you need and where it should be applied, drones can provide a clear picture down to specific plants within an entire field. A flight one week before fertiliser application will provide good baseline data which can be used to variably apply the season’s additional input. Flights after the application will show the crop’s uptake and response while also identifying any application errors such as plugged nozzles or knives. 

Because the nutrients are applied only where they are needed most, this practice can save farmers a lot on the cost of inputs while ensuring the performance of their crop.

Drones don’t tell you how to farm – but shows where to save money

While it’s not the role of the drone to tell you how to farm or manage your operation, it will help you see where deficiencies are and where there’s an opportunity to save money. These savings alone can offset the cost of a drone or mapping service in a relatively short time while helping your operation grow.

The potential for drones in improving sustainable agriculture in Africa cannot be understated. Producers are increasingly turning to drones to help guide decision-making, save valuable resources and boost farm productivity to meet the high demands of today – and tomorrow.
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