The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, is becoming a low-cost, essential tool for precision agriculture that can help citrus growers better manage their crop in new and revolutionary ways.
While the UAV itself has progressed, it is the algorithms and programming that are starting to take the technology to a whole new level. For example, in a paper published in the journal Drones, researchers used a simple convolutional neural network (CNN) re ned through a Simple Linear Iterative Clustering (SLIC) algorithm to better detect citrus from other crop trees in UAV imagery.
According to the research, this “teaming up” of algorithms can help growers identify individual trees for growth, fruit production, and pest and disease occurrence in a more automated method as an alternative to manual delineation, making the monitoring process quicker and more efficient. Making the work ow more efficient is key to long-term management. According to Steven Fargo, CEO of DataWing Global, the best information will come from a combination of multiple sources, not just from UAVs.
Idaho farmer Robert Blair claims to be the first farmer to use a drone in 2005 and has seen the technology become more sophisticated, surpassing precision agriculture into what he calls “surgical agriculture.” Agriculture drone pioneer Blair cautions that it is only as good as the other precision equipment on the farm. “If there are no computers or controllers, the UAV data collected is just good general information with no directed purpose,” he says. “Without a way to read the data, images taken during the growing season cannot be quantified to know how good the management strategy was.” The short of it is, drones have many practical applications to assist citrus growers in managing their crop.