9 best drones for agriculture [The Ultimate Guide]

There are some estimates which state that 80% to 90% of the growth in the drone market will occur in the next decade from agricultural uses. This is because using a drone is a cost-effective way to collect data and perform common agricultural activities such as crop spraying and crop monitoring. In this article, we are going to look at all of the best drones for agriculture and look at the common questions around using drones on a farm or for other agricultural purposes.

The best drones for agriculture include the DJI Agras T20 for crop spraying and the Wingtra One for aerial surveillance and mapping. No matter what your agricultural operation there is almost certainly a drone that can benefit your profitability and crop health.

Since the use of drones during World War I for enemy surveillance, technology and advances in small electronics have allowed the drone markets to grow to hobbyist, military, and business uses. However, there is a lot of excitement about using drones for agricultural purposes. The Association of Unmanned Aerial Systems International reported an annual growth of 85-92% every year especially in the upcoming market of Agriculture.

Over the past 10 to 15 years the drone has changed from a radio-controlled model to semi-automated aerial vehicles with GPS tracking and stabilisation as well as incredible cameras which can include advanced camera features such as infrared monitoring and 3D mapping and scanning.

When did farmers start using drones?

There is a long history of using aircraft for agriculture. Although the common use of multi-rotor drones in agriculture started in around 2011, the very earliest evidence we have of a drone being used in agriculture goes back as early as 1985.

The first evidence of using a camera on a drone for agricultural purposes was by Thurling et al. in 1985.

Here they used a camera on a drone for taking vertical images of weeds in a crop. There is no peer-reviewed paper in the literature but it was presented in a British cop protection conference in Brighton in 1985.

The talk was called aerial photography of a field experiments using remotely piloted aircraft.

The scientists wrote:

“A lightweight radio-controlled model aircraft fitted with a gimbal-mounted 35 mm camera has been used to obtain very detailed vertical photographs of oilseed rape-weed competition experiments”

After this initial usage, a couple years later, in 1987 Yamaha presented the R – 50 which it described as “the first practical use unmanned helicopter for crop dusting”. This drone was very complicated to use and, at the time, was regulated by the international arms regulations because it weighed a lot.

Then, in 1991 the Swedish University of agricultural sciences started a project to develop an aeroplane with a camera fitted to it for mapping crops. The remote control plane was methanol driven and was approximately 3 m wide. It weighed approximately 17 kg and allows you to image with infrared photography. This was the first documented use of using infrared photography for crop monitoring.

Since those early experiments with drones in agriculture there are a whole range of different use cases and scientific investigations which have been summarised in the open access journal; Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics, in a paper entitled agricultural innovation and the role of institutions: lessons from the game of drones – this is an excellent read if you want to understand the history and application of drones in agriculture.

What type of drones are used in agriculture?

There are a number of different types of drones used in agriculture but the main to include multirotor drones as well as fixed wing drones. Multirotor drones are what we typically think about when we think about the drone and can include up to 8 motors and sets of propellers. The higher the number of propellers the more stable the drone and it is also able to carry a larger payload – depending on the weight of the frame.

Fixed wing drones are better suited for high altitude aerial mapping of crops and other monitoring activities. Because they do not hover they have a larger flight time and are able to cover a much larger area. Perfect for large scale monitoring of crops. Fixed wing drones can carry a number of cameras which will allow you to take a number of different photographs and capture a variety of data from crops.

Here is a quick rundown of the two main types of drone used in agriculture.

Quadcopter/Multirotor drones

This type of drone is the most commonly used by professionals and hobbyists. The great thing about multirotor drones is that they can take off like a helicopter and are very stable and manoeuvrable. The artificial intelligence software which is used to control the drone is getting better and better which means even the most inexperienced pilots can get flying and confident in the air within a matter of minutes.

Typically, there are four rotors but they can have up to 8 depending on the stability and payload that the drone is carrying.

The downside of this type of drone is the relatively short flying time and limited endurance and speed. They are not really suitable for large-scale projects like long-distance aerial mapping or surveillance. For that you will need a fixed wing drone which is a much better drone for conserving energy.

The best multirotor drones available at the moment give a flight time of approximately 30 minutes. But this will vary depending on the wind conditions as well as the types of payloads it is carrying – for example lidar instrument or camera.

Fixed wing

Fixed wing drones look like an aeroplane and create lift by continuously moving through the air and passing air over the wings to create a low pressure system on top of the wing to fly like a conventional aircraft. They cannot stay stationary as they would quickly fall out of the air and move forward continuously through a set series of predetermined waypoints or are controlled manually by a fixed wing drone pilot.

These drones can fly for a couple of hours at a time and if it has a conventional petrol engine it can even fly for over 24 hours. This is because of their great fuel efficiency and the fact that they are not hovering and draining energy from the battery. These drones are perfect for aerial surveillance and taking photographs over a large distance and area.

The downside of using a drone like this is that you require a much higher skill level and you need to have a runway or catapult launcher to put the drone into the air. Then a runway or a parachute is again necessary to land them back on the grand in a safe and controlled manner without damaging the drone.

There is also another type of drone called a fixed wing hybrid which combines the benefits and advantages of both the multi rotor drone as well as a fixed wing aircraft. These are less common but are starting to pique the interest of farmers due to the fact that it can cover both large areas and hover accurately at a predetermined GPS location.

Fixed wing hybrid

There are also hybrid type drones which have the benefits of a fixed wing model but the stability and manoeuvrability of other motor based models. These are the least common type of drone available and different types of control sensors required are becoming more efficient and inexpensive. Typically, this type of drone is suitable for very specific applications and are very expensive because of the customised features that these sort drones typically have.

This type of drone is being looked at for things like package delivery by mail services like UPS and Amazon.

Underwater

A little-known type of drone for agriculture is the underwater drone. There are many uses for an underwater drone on a farm and in agriculture. An underwater drone is able to inspect waterways of agricultural land including dams and it can also be used in aquaculture.

Aquaculture can use underwater drones to easily inspect the livestock that they are harvesting and growing. They can easily use underwater drones to look for diseases and other issues which may impact the health and safety of their fish.

If a company or farm has any underwater infrastructure you can use an underwater drone to easily and simply inspect the condition of the infrastructure to see if it needs any costly maintenance. Also, sending down on underwater drone means that it is much safer than sending scuba divers as no personnel is going under the water.

If you want to know more about the best underwater drones you should check out my other article – underwater drones [the ultimate guide] – click here to be taken to article.

Underwater drones [The ultimate guide - drones and tips]

What is the best agricultural drone to buy?

Typically, when people are looking to buy a drone for agricultural purposes they are buying a drone with a specific use case in mind. Here are all of the ways in which drones can help farmers improve their operation.

How can drones help farmers?

Drones can help farmers by:

  • Surveying – cameras can be mounted on the drone to allow farmers to get an overall picture of their crop and livestock..
  • Thermal imaging – thermal imaging can be used to monitor the specific health problems of crops.
  • Spraying – drones can be used to spray pesticides and fertilisers directly on top of the plants that need it.
  • Plant seeds – drones can drop seeds or other materials from a great height which can allow farmers to easily plant in challenging terrain.
  • Evaluate soil health – drones can be used by scientists to evaluate soil health. They have special cameras which can detect moisture and gases that are being emitted by the soil.

Depending on exactly what you want to do with your drone you will almost certainly find a company that has produced a drone that it has got a specific use for your agricultural purpose. Here are some of the best drones for different purposes that are currently on the market.

Best drone for spraying

Spraying crops is a very common use of drone technology. Drones are able to fly directly above the crops – minimising the amount of overspray into neighbouring fields and can also operate autonomously – manoeuvring up and down rows of crops without the need for continuous pilot attention.

Here are some of the best drones for spraying crops.

DJI Argas MG-1S

This drone integrates a number of cutting-edge technologies introduced by leading drone manufacturer, DJI. It has a radar sensing system that provides reliability during flight and the spring system and flow sensor also ensure accurate distribution of materials through the crop.

It is fitted with an A3 flight controller which is capable of extremely high levels of reliability and the algorithm has been specifically optimised for agricultural uses. This ensures that the drone is able to stay stable even when the liquid payload is sloshing around in the container.

It has high precision microwave radar is which are placed on the front and rear and bottom of the spray tank. This means that it is able to follow the terrain whilst looking out for potential issues whilst flying forward.

The drone has a position spraying system with two pumps controlling the front pair and rear pair of the nozzles separately. It has three spraying modes – forward spraying, backward spraying, and full spraying. The pressure sensor and flow sensor are able to monitor the spraying rate in real time so that you can be assured of accurate dosing of the crop.

DJI has its own agricultural management platform in order to supervise the flight status of every aircraft and manage the spraying. This drone is perfect for you if spraying is exactly what you need to do.

DJI Agras T20

This drone has incredible performance and spraying capabilities. It can conduct autonomous operations and features an omnidirectional digital Raider to improve the stability and safety during operation.

This drone has a 20 L tank and a spray width of 7 m which makes the operation and application of this drone much more efficient for a variety of different crops. It uses the RTK protocol for positioning which means that is got a high precision autonomous flight system and comes with a series of artificial intelligence agricultural systems for making the application and use of this drone much easier.

The RTK precision GPS system enables centimetre level positioning and also centimetre level waypoint recording which improves the accuracy of the spraying significantly.

It has eight spraying nozzles and a high volume pump rates that can spray at a rate of up to 6 L per minute. The propellers have been designed in order to create and highly optimise wind field which allows the droplets to become smaller and more consistent – this means that your crop spraying will be more reproducible.

The omnidirectional radar is able to detect obstacles from every direction and will also ensure that the drone adapts to the terrain as it flies. It comes with a first person view, forward facing camera and two searchlights which provides comprehensive lives views even when operating in low light environments.

It is able to be folded into a much more portable shape which means that you are able to chuck it in the back of your truck and safely transported to the takeoff location.

With the wider range of software that this drone comes with it would be silly to look past this DJI drone for your spraying needs. Staying with the DJI software and company means that you will be assured that any issues will be solved quickly by their customer support team.

Best drone for mapping

Some agricultural operations need mapping for planting or surveillance and surveying of potential sites. Also, drone mapping can inform farmers about the crops which helps them make the right decisions – improving the profitability of their crop. Mapping a crop also enables you to predict the yield of a crop and also analyse feed crops for livestock.

For example, vineyards can be scoured with a drone for any visible issues which are not visible from the ground. Then you can intervene with localised treatment resolving any problems in areas under the most stress.

Here are some of the best drones for large-scale mapping and predicting yield.

Wingtra

Wingtra is a fixed wing drone which allows you to fly at up to 36 mph for up to 39 minutes per flight – this means that a huge area can be monitored.

It has a 42 megapixel camera which means that you can fly higher than some other drone cameras which means that you can capture more detail with every picture and cover a much larger area. The maximum coverage is up to hundred and 10 ha or 272 acres at an altitude of 93 m.

The fact that you are able to capture a lot more data much quicker means that the cost of capturing data is significantly reduced.

The drone is able to take off and land vertically which means that it can land as easily and efficiently as a multi-rotor drone. Some fixed wing drones need to be launched like a plane there is this one takes off vertically and then is able to fly away after a vertical takeoff. This means that you can collect data where other fixed wing drones cannot.

The drone is able to carry a wide range of different cameras all the way from a simple camera up to a thermal camera with high resolution narrowband is for advanced thermal, multispectral, and high resolution imagery in one single flight.

If you want to map large areas of your agricultural activities this is a drone that you should absolutely consider.

DJI Phantom 4 RTK

This drone was designed to make drone mapping easy, convenient, and efficient with the ability to fly for up to 30 minutes. The drone captures original satellite observation data as well as highly accurate image position data. It is built for surveyors as the website points out that:

“The drone captures original satellite observation data as well as the ephemeris data and stores it in a PPKRAW.bin file in RTCM 3.2 format. Additionally, the Phantom 4 RTK converts the satellite data on the fly to the RINEX format (Receiver Independent Exchange Format) and writes the data into a RINEX.obs file. Thanks to the internal synchronization of the GNSS position and camera, the Timestamp.MRK file provides a precise recording of the highly accurate image position. All operation-relevant data is stored on a Micro-SD card in a unique folder for each mission. The consistency of the Phantom 4 RTK’s data reduced the time needed to validate the data and results in an efficient post-processing workflow with minimal to no manual adjustments.”

sense Fly eBee X

This drone is lightweight and is able to be hand launched. It clicks important aerial mapping data safely and efficiently with a suite of purpose-built mapping cameras.

It has a maximum flight time of approximately 90 minutes and has a maximum coverage of up to 500 ha or 1235 acres at 400 foot. You are able to achieve an absolute accuracy of down to 3 cm using the RTK modules.

It has a huge range of output capability including 3D point cloud, digital surface modelling, 3D mesh with textures, undistorted image capturing, and Google maps out.

The drone has a wingspan of 116 cm and a very low noise motor system. It only weighs approximately 1.3 to 1.6 kg depending on the type of camera it is carrying and the battery size you have decided to take off with. It is able to fit in a backpack which comes with the drone. This makes it perfect for carrying to and from your takeoff location.

Hovermap

Hovermap is a smart mobile scanning unit which you can use by mounting on a backpack, holding in your hand, or even mounted to a drone to provide autonomous mapping from the air.

This unit only weighs 1.8 kg and is able to be fitted to smaller drones such as the DJI M210. The Hovermap mobile scanning unit not only acts as a way to capture a 3D model of your construction zone it can also act as a collision avoidance system for the drone. The lidar data is processed on board in real-time to produce a 3D map of the surroundings which means that your drone will be flying in a virtual safety bubble to prevent collisions.

Drones often rely on GPS for location, navigation, and for accurate flight control. By fitting the Hovermap mobile scanning it to your drone you are able to fly without using GPS such as situations where you are underground. This makes Hovermap a perfect solution for those that want to fly in mining situations or in large warehouses. Also, if your flight is likely to have unstable GPS connection – like flying under bridges or into caves – using the Hovermap mobile scanning unit will protect your drone from the GPS dropouts by using lidar.

By using an on-board camera you are also able to get real colour 3D point clouds by combining the on-board camera footage with the data collected. This means that you are able to reveal previously hidden details in your critical infrastructure.

Best drone for thermal imaging crops

Thermal mapping and canopy temperature has long been recognised as an indicator of plant water status and therefore health of the plant. By getting a good overview of the thermal properties of the crops you can get an idea of the water stress that the plant is under.

Here is one of the best, and affordable, thermal imaging drones which you can use for monitoring plant stress levels.

Parrot Anafi Thermal

If you do not want to play about in the DJI ecosystem the parrot Anafi is a fantastic drone which you can use to fly at night using their optional thermal module.

With a weight of only 320 g this is a very compact and portable drone. The Anafi can be set up in just a few seconds and the camera is stabilised on five axes which means that the optical sensor always picks up the best photo possible.

It has 25 minutes of battery life and a range of assisted flight modes which enable even the newest of drone pilots to fly with confidence.

There are plenty of packs including the extended, FPV and work packs which enable you to choose a bundle of accessories which will make your drone more suited to the way that you want to perform roof inspections.

The Anafi thermal is able to detect temperatures of between -10° and +400° and because of the way the drone processes the image you are able to see the temperature of each individual pixel. It also has up to 3 times digital zoom and a 4K camera.

To make the interpretation of the image is better, the parrot Anafi thermal is able to isolate the interesting area of the environment and give you an absolute temperature value. The great thing is that the colour palette of the video can be re-edited from the fly and which means that you can control the contrast of the thermal data to make it easier to find exactly what you are looking for. You don’t have to download the image and go through tricky post processing editing or refinement.

The thermal data can be used to explore your surroundings without having to rely on the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum for navigation.

There are plenty of other drones which use thermal imaging but the parrot Anafi is the best on the market right now due to its flight and imaging capabilities.

Best drones for scaring birds

Sometimes you need a drone to do a specific job. Whether or not that is lifting and carrying stuff, taking photographs, surveying a certain area, or scaring birds there are drone add-ons and drones which can do almost anything. But the problem is with so much choice and so many options on the market right now it can be hard to decipher which one is the best for your use case. In this article, we are going to go over everything you need to know about the best drone to scare birds as well as a buyers guide so that you can make the best choice for you.

PROHAWK® UAV BIRD CONTROL DRONE

The PROHAWK UAV bird control drone is one of the first drones of his class made specifically for bird control. It has a range of technology including a patented sonic bird repeller. The manufacturers say that is one of the most effective ways to repower unwanted birds which also doesn’t cause any harm to them or the environment.

This drone uses its physical presence with a sonic bird noise which has been proven to keep birds away. Drones are typically loud and scary for birds and this drone takes it to the next level with naturally recorded predator cries and distress calls which mimic a noisy, physical and terrifying intrusion for the birds that you want to get rid of.

One of the things I like about this drone is that it is a fully autonomous flight drone. This means that you can focus on looking after your crops or getting on with your other tasks while the drone does the bird scaring for you. It will launch, patrol, and land on its own. You are able to set different waypoints so that the drone will go through a set course each time it takes off.

  • Fully autonomous
  • Made in the USA
  • Carbon fibre construction

AeroDrone: Avian Scout

This drone has been proven to work on a number of different trials on farms with initial customers. The customers have said that they are see Love the new system and after extensive testing this drone is now available for consumers. This drone was built and designed in Australia where there is a huge issue with parrots and other birds completely destroying crops. This drone has been specifically designed to protect your crops against crows, cockatoos, starlings, Rosellas, parrots and more types of persistent problem birds.

The drone also comes with a simple to use flight planning software which allows you to generate random flight paths that protects against the birds getting used to the drone being in a certain spot at a certain time. This is a common problem with any technology that is trying to deter birds because words can easily become habituated to the new environment and the bird prevention is no longer effective.

Interestingly this company have also developed what they term a screecher. They’ve taken some of the most proven sonic bird deterrent technologies and made them even more effective. The screecher creates a range of different sounds that work together to ensure that birds are frightened away from the crop and away from the property. It has a volume dial, power switch, power jack (for charging) and a powerful speaker.

  • 25 minute flight time
  • Operates in 30 knot winds and light rain
  • Flight planning software
  • Comes with a screecher (audio box)

Summary

In this article, we have gone through everything you need to know to make the best decisions for your agricultural drone purposes. No matter what you need to achieve there is almost certainly a drone out there that can help improve the smart technology integration to your agricultural practices.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. Andy started droneflyingpro.com to share his love and the research of all things drone! He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drone. His favorite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!