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The ability to detect and analyze plant health over large areas of crop production or in natural areas - quickly and cost-effectively - is a huge advantage of using UAVs in agriculture.

Source: DroneDeploy

UAV/drones can obtain extremely detailed and accurate images of fields and crops and can cover hundreds of hectares in a single, relatively short flight. They can fly below cloud cover and at all times during the planting and harvest seasons. More importantly, the data and images collected can synthesized into orthomosaic images, and when processed through software algorithms such as the Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI) and Enhanced NDVI, produces a reflective map of the fields and crops. (Enhanced NDVI uses more visible light channels to isolate plant health factors).


This map is the key to boosting yields, cutting costs, and producing more food for the nation. It highlights exactly which areas of crop need closer examination – meaning less time spent scouting, and more time treating the plants that need it.

  • Verifying that plants are growing where and when they should, with frequent checking.

  • The Green Difference Vegetation Index will predict nitrogen requirements for corn, for example, after mapping the crop using a separate vegetative index.

  • The Renormalized Difference Vegetation Index, excellent for taller crops such as cassava, correlates leaf area values and plant vigor.

  • Early detection of problems such as poor growth or crop damage.

  • Use of the Green Normalized Difference Vegetative Index will indicate senescence (stress) and late growth stages prior to harvest.


  • Fertilizer (if used) planning based on plant density and health instead of wasting it by applying to entire fields. UAV/Drones can help identify factors for Variable Rate Application.

  • RGB (Red/Green/Blue): visual inspection, elevation modeling, plant counting

  • NIR (near-infrared): soil property & moisture analysis, crop health/stress analysis, water management, erosion analysis, plant counting

  • RE (red-edge): crop health analysis, plant counting, water management

  •  MultiSPEC 4C (multispectral): both NIR & RE applications, except plant counting

  •  ThermoMAP (thermal infrared) – plant physiology analysis, irrigation scheduling, maturity evaluation, yield forecasting

Types of Sensors

Depending on the specific nature of the crops, various cameras can be used with UVA/drones to obtain specialized crop and harvest data:

  • Methods of analysis include:

  • Vegetation indices (VI) such as NDVI, CWSI etc.

  • Detect structural, chlorophyll & water stresses

  • Elevation data/topography

  • Monitor erosion, design water drainage & irrigation systems

  • Manual inspection

  • Detect patterns, machine issues, weeds, plant stand, erosion etc.

  • Plant counting & statistics

  • Soil moisture & temperature

  • Evaluate drainage systems, disease & plant mortality

  • Index variations

  • Patterns in canopy height, vigor, color, density

  • Developing erosion channels

  • Verify survey data

  • Drainage tile, terrace & waterway condition/functionality

  • Damage observations

  • Plant statistical variations & comparisons to other data (e.g. planter data)

  • Patterns in dry soil vs. wet soil

  • Determine relative location of drainage tile & whether functioning/broken

  • Identify pests, disease, weeds

  • Collect tissue tests for fertility & disease issues

  • Collect soil samples for soil, fertility, pH & pest issues

  • Dig plants, inspect root structure for signs of compaction, depth, disease, pests

  • Measure erosion channel width & depth

  • Note machine issues & other visual defects

  • Count plants & determine population / spacing issues

  • Gauge severity of impact

  • Gauge severity of damage

  • Identify deficiency in fertility, water or other

Below is a typical four-season cycle use of UAV/drones in the northern hemisphere
Mission Planning
Early analysis of soils, tillage, tile and drainage
Early analysis of soils, tillage, tile and drainage
Pre-harvest dry down and stand consistency data; post-harvest analysis of soils, tillage and topography
Assessment of input and machinery performance
In addition, UAV/drones can be used at any time to determine wind/storm/flood damage and drainage status.
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