Bennett Kireker from New York grew up visiting his grandparents’ farm on weekends. While he now lives in Pismo Beach, California, he goes back to New York occasionally to check on the status of the farm. Bennett J Kireker is very interested in urban farming and the use of modern technology to maximize crop yields. He is particularly interested about the prospects of using digital imaging systems to help farmers plan their planting and harvesting cycles. This article is the first part of a two-part blog about the way drones are helping shape the future of agriculture.

For Bennett Kireker, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are no longer the novelty items that they used to be. Drones have been in use in different industries, such as defense and security and media. However, according to the MIT Technology Review, scientists have been cooperating with farmers in developing agriculture-specific applications for UAVs. These applications, Bennett J Kireker believes, have the potential to change the agricultural landscape. Below are three of them.

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Field analysis. Bennett Kireker, New York born and bred, thinks that drones can be used to help in the pre-planting phase of the crop cycle. Using high-resolution cameras, UAVs can produce three-dimensional maps of the farm and surrounding areas, considering the topography and condition of the soil. These maps are useful in planning seeding and planting activities. After the seeds are planted, these maps can also help farmers plan and dig irrigation channels as well as areas where nitrogen is most needed with a high degree of precision.

Seeding. Bennett J Kireker remembers spending days slouched over the soil, planting seeds and applying starter fertilizer to the shoots. While this phase of the crop cycle has largely been automated using heavy farming machinery, drones could help in avoiding the soil compaction that accompanies the use of these machines. A startup company, for instance, develops agricultural drones that insert “pods” containing seeds and essential nutrients, directly into the soil. Preliminary tests indicate that this lowers planting costs by over 80% and improves seed survival by more than 70%.

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Crop Dusting. While crop dusting has been mainly done by hand or by plane, both have their drawbacks – manual spraying exposes farmers to high levels of chemicals, while planes tend to spray too much liquid in the wrong places. For Bennett Kireker, New York farms are the ideal venues for using drone-based crop spraying and dusting technologies as there are concerns about chemicals leaching into the groundwater. Using drones is also safer as there is a lower chance of drones crashing into the ground, thanks to technology that helps drones adjust their altitude according to the topology of the farm.

Bennett J Kireker will discuss more exciting agricultural applications of UAV technology in a future article. Stay tuned!