Buying a drone for agricultural purposes means that you should look at the amount of area that a drone can cover. Depending on the type of activity that you want your drone to perform you can choose from either a fixed-wing drone or a quadcopter. A fixed-wing drone can cover a lot more area but is much faster and useful for surveying and crop monitoring. A quadcopter on the other hand is able to fly low and slowly across your crops in order to spray fertiliser or insecticide.
An agricultural drone can cover anywhere from approximately 20 acres (quadcopter used for spraying) all the way up to 1500 acres (fixed-wing surveying missions). The amount of coverage also depends on a variety of factors such as wind, topographical features in the land and flying patterns.
There is also the potential to use multiple batteries in the same flight mission to increase the amount of acreage that a drone can cover per hour. There are three main types of drone you can use for agricultural purposes.
- Quadcopter/Multirotor drones – this is the most commonly used drone by hobbyists and photographers. It can be used in agriculture for spraying and low altitude missions. It is able to take off vertically and is very stable. There can be up to 8 rotors depending on the payload that the drone is carrying. It has a relatively short flying time and limited endurance and speed. They are not really suitable for large-scale projects such as aerial mapping or surveillance.
- Fixed wing drone – a fixed wing drone looks like an aeroplane and creates lift by continuously moving forward through the air. They cannot stay stationary and would quickly fall if the air. These drones can fly for a couple of hours at a time if it has a significant amount of battery capacity. These drones are perfect for aerial surveillance but require a runway or parachute for takeoff and landing.
- Fixed wing hybrid – a fixed wing hybrid drone have the benefits of a fixed wing model but the stability and manoeuvrability of other motor based models. They are the less common type of drone but they are perfectly suited for agricultural applications.
Depending on what you want your drone to do you’ll have two figure out the best model for you. If you want to know more about the best drones for agriculture check out my other article – click here – where I go through everything you need to know about selecting the perfect drone for your agricultural application.
Here are the best sort of drones with their acreage coverage for different applications.
What do you want your drone to do?
The best sort of drone for the job is dependent on what you want to do with your drone. If you are spraying your crops it is very likely that a multirotor drone will be the best for you. These can typically carry up to 20 L of spraying liquid and often have quick change spray tanks for maximum efficiency in the field.
On the other hand, if you are surveying or monitoring your crops it is likely that a fixed wing drone or a fixed wing hybrid will be the best for you. These fly at higher altitudes and give you a much better acreage coverage per hour.
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.
The two most popular crop-spraying drones on the market are manufactured by DJI and can cover up to approximately 30 ac/h.
The acreage that these drones can cover are:
The amount of acreage that your drone will cover depends on a variety of factors including the weather, the amount of liquid and the density of the liquid that it is carrying, and if the drone has to manoeuvre around a complicated geography or avoid obstacles such as tree lines.
In order to maximise the efficiency of the spraying you have two take a fair amount of time to plan your mission so that the drone is flying the minimum amount of distance through your fields. We will talk about how to increase the amount of area a drone can cover in a single flight mission, below.
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.
Below, I compare and contrast two popular drones used for surveying in agricultural settings. One of them is a fixed wing hybrid drone whilst the other is a quadcopter. You will notice that the fixed wing hybrid is able to cover a significantly larger area than the multirotor drone resulting in a 275% increase in acreage covered.
The reason you would use a multirotor drone for surveying is if you want to get particularly close to the crop. These drones move slower and more meticulously over the crop whilst a fixed wing drone needs to fly at a much higher altitude and relies on a high resolution camera for close-up images.
If you are doing general surveying and you do not want to get high resolution images of your crop I recommend using a fixed wing hybrid drone. On the other end, if you want to really understand the differences between different areas of your crop you should consider using a multirotor drone for surveying purposes. It will not be able to cover as much area but you will get a lot more useful imagery including thermal and lidar data with the appropriate cameras and hardware additions.
You can also use a drone to scare birds.
Scaring birds relies on flying a multirotor drone over your crops in an unpredictable manner. The good thing about using a multirotor drone for scaring your birds is that they can return to a base station and be charged in between uses.
If you want to know more about the best drones to scare birds check out my other article – click here – where I go through four awesome options and everything you need to know about buying the perfect bird scaring drone for your agricultural needs.
Using a drone to scare birds will significantly reduce the amount of area you can cover since the pathway over the crop will be more erratic and it is likely that you will be flying low and fast in order to scare the birds.
Here are a variety of ways that you can increase the acreage that your drone can cover.
How to cover a larger area with your drone
ultimately, the amount of area that your drone can cover depends on the battery life and the speed that the drone is able to fly over the field. For example, a drone flying at 45 km/h (just under 30 mph) can cover approximately 100 acres in 20 minutes. With a few battery changes a drone can easily cover 1000 acres in a day.
Review aerial maps for hazards
The last thing you need when you are going out to fly your drone are surprises. Making sure that you are able to look at the area using satellite images from Google maps or Apple maps will ensure that you do not run into any unexpected issues such as roads, weird landscapes, overhanging large trees, and other issues. You can also check the best places for takeoff, battery swaps and landing areas at the end of your flight mission.
When you are flying over your field, either manually or automatically, I recommend that you use simple squares and shapes. It can be tempting to get tricky with the types of shapes and flight pass that you fly over a field but keeping it simple will make your flight planning much easier.
Fly parallel with the longest edge
Drones waste a lot of energy when they are moving against their own momentum. By that I mean that changes in direction and acceleration in any direction uses much more energy than flying in a straight line.
You should plan your mission so that your drone flies parallel with the longest edge of your area of interest.
Although this is a good rule of thumb other factors such as the topography and wind direction may also come into consideration when planning your flight. For example, high winds will tilt the drone.
Ensuring that you are not flying directly into strong wind will mean that you are able to keep the propellers, and the shadows cast by the propellers, away from the lens and the camera resulting in much better images.
The position of the sun will also have a huge influence on the shadows cast by the propellers and so the time of day and position of the sun can significantly influence the quality of the footage that you collect.
Turn off automatic camera
Turn off any automatic camera features. By keeping your camera settings on automatic the camera will be constantly evaluating things like exposure and shutter speed to not flood the sensor with light. However, during a large area flight this can result in dark spots or bright patches in your image when it is stitched together.
Getting comfortable with your drone and its manual camera settings will allow you to collect the best footage possible. Any cloud cover or shadows cast by trees can easily cause the drone to adjust the camera settings and make the photos collected in certain areas of your flight unusable.
Divide complicated areas into multiple missions
Not all areas of interest are perfect squares, rectangles, or triangles. If you have a particularly complicated area to survey you should consider dividing the area into multiple missions.
Dividing the area into simple shapes with battery swaps in between each of the shapes allows you to capture a large area more efficiently.
In this article, we have investigated how many acres a drone can cover. It depends heavily on the type of drone that you are using – whether it is a fixed-wing drone or a multirotor drone.
The type of drone that you use for your mission will depend on the type of application you are using your drone for. If you are spraying you will get approximately 25 to 30 acres of flight time per hour. Which can easily be increased by swapping out batteries throughout the flight.
If you are interested in surveying an area of your land you will be able to easily cover up to 1500 acres since the drone is flying at a much higher altitude and is moving forward continuously throughout its flight.