In 1892, John Froelich successfully constructed the world’s first gasoline-powered tractor with forward and reverse gears. This breakthrough in technology was a pivotal moment for the agricultural industry. Initially, the product was not well received by farmers, but after further innovation the public found the gasoline-powered tractor to be a resounding success as it made their lives as farmers far easier and more profitable. Soon sales began to skyrocket and Froelich’s company (Waterloo Gasoline Engine Co.) was purchased by John Deere.
Since that time, farming tech has continued to improve rapidly. In 2006, another innovative idea began to revolutionize the agricultural industry. This was the first year that drones were used to scout crops in North America. But similar to tractors, drone use in the farming industry needed time to catch on as technology needed to catch up. Drone tech was more or less in its infancy stage and the equipment was not yet deemed capable nor affordable. After 12 years of innovation, drones are now an inexpensive and extremely effective means of collecting data as well as performing tasks such as seeding and spraying.
These autonomous machines are capable of spraying crops at an estimated rate that is up to five times faster than traditional methods. The result being even coverage, with less fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides penetrating into the groundwater. This means less dead-zones in local rivers and streams and therefore less destruction to the environment and Ecosystems. By precisely controlling where and when to spray fertilizer, the chance of fertilizer burn decreases, which increases the overall yield. A win-win situation for both the farmer and the environment.
In addition, before a single seed is dispersed, drones create precise 3D maps, that can be utilized for field and soil analysis. This is extremely useful when designing and mapping seed planting patterns, as drone-planting systems can speed up seed planting processes by 75 percent and decrease planting costs by 85 percent. After the seeds have been planted, soil analysis provides data for irrigation and nitrogen-level management.
Once the crops are growing, drones can be essential to the assessment of plant health. Using near-infrared light, drone pilots can detect bacterial or fungal infections, for example, and can identify disease by reading sensory data obtained from reflected green light and NIR light instruments. Informative data gathering and timely reporting provides farmers with the necessary information to diagnose, treat, as well as monitor crop remedies, increasing the crop’s ability to overcome disease. In the case of a crop failure, documented losses will assist the farmer with insurance entitlements.