JUL 06, 2022
Application of fertilisers and plant protection products
In agriculture, much revolves around the efficient and high-yield cultivation, growth and harvesting of crops. This includes, among other things, the management and use of agents to supply nutrients as well as to protect plants and destroy pests. Here, however, farmers face several problems.
One problem is caused by the increased occurrence of both native and newly introduced pests due to changing environmental conditions such as global warming. These are, for example, plant diseases caused by fungi or viruses, beetles or other animals that attack the plants, or weeds that rob the plants of valuable nutrients in the soil. This has a negative impact on the growth of the plants and thus also on the production and quality of the agricultural products, which in turn leads to economic losses. Farmers and companies are therefore forced to use fertilisers, pesticides and plant protection products. However, excessive or even uncontrolled use of these substances can also have negative effects. Many of these agents are applied with agricultural machinery, such as tractor-mounted sprayers, as they can cover large areas. However, these methods also affect plants and animals in the immediate vicinity, for which these substances are usually harmful or even fatal.
The nutrient deficiency of the plants can be compensated, among other things, by the use of fertilisers. One problem here, apart from the high costs of fertiliser use, is the pollution of the soil and groundwater and, as a consequence, of the surrounding water bodies. Farmers are therefore under pressure to reduce or better target the use of pesticides and fertilisers (Söldi, 2021).
Another problem is that the application of fertilisers or pesticides has to be done by hand under certain circumstances. This is especially true in rough terrain, where technical aids can hardly be used because the terrain is too steep or the soil is unsuitable for the machines. This in turn requires more labour, which has a negative economic impact on the farm.
Due to these circumstances, the management and efficient use of fertilisers and sprays in agriculture is of great importance. Both in research and in the commercial sector, new technologies are being researched and tested that enable a more economical and targeted use of these agents on agricultural land.
The use of drones in particular is being pushed forward in the development and use of new technologies in agriculture. These can help farmers to make their work more efficient. This includes, among other things, the application of beneficial insects or pesticides, plant protection products and fertilisers by drones. The use of drones in this sense brings many different advantages.
Among other things, the use of drones makes sense in impassable terrain, as this is often difficult or impossible to navigate with tractors and is also difficult to access on foot (BLE, 2021). Drones can reach these areas quickly and easily from the air and apply the necessary substances there. In addition, drones can be used to precisely identify areas on the ground where there is a nutrient deficiency or pest infestation. These can then be approached directly with drones and fertiliser or protective agents sprayed.
The environment also benefits from the more targeted application of these products, as less fertiliser and pesticides end up in them (BLE, 2021). Other advantages are that fewer agricultural vehicles need to be used, which consumes less fuel and emits fewer exhaust gases, and that the soil is less compacted. If plants on larger areas show signs of deficiency or disease, drones are also suitable for this, as they can cover several hectares of land in a matter of minutes. Thus, work that previously had to be done manually or with a tractor can be done in a much shorter time with a drone (BLE, 2021).
However, the use of drones in agriculture is not only intended as a replacement for other technical equipment, such as tractors, but also as a supporting element to help farmers apply fertiliser or pesticides more precisely and thus more economically with their existing machinery (Press and Information Office of the Federal Government, 2022). Aerial photographs of agricultural land taken by drones and digital maps generated from them can provide information on the condition of plants and from this, plant and fungal damage, nutrient deficiencies or pest infestations can be detected. This information can then be used for efficient planning and the targeted use of machinery with fertilisers or pesticides/herbicides on the agricultural land. In this way, fertilisers, water and pesticides are only applied where they are really needed and only in the quantity they are needed. This brings various advantages, such as saving time when using technical equipment and using fewer resources, which saves costs.
Nowadays, drones are also being developed and sold specifically for the application of fertilisers/crop protection products. The company Agronator AG is working on the development of its Agronator drone, which is intended, among other things, as a heavy-duty drone for agriculture and, with a payload of 50 kg, is suitable for the application of pesticides and the like (Agronator AG, 2021). The drone company DJI offers a range of drones for these tasks in agriculture with its AGRAS series. Among other things, they are characterised by a high payload in order to be able to transport tanks with fertilisers or spraying agents. In addition, these drones have an integrated radar unit that helps with navigation and prevents the drone from under-supplying the same area or other areas of the field several times (DJI, 2022).
Agronator AG. (2021). News | Agronator. Agronator AG. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://agronator.de/.
BLE. (2021). What are drones needed for in agriculture?. Bundesinformationszentrum Landwirtschaft. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://www.landwirtschaft.de/landwirtschaft-verstehen/wie-funktioniert-landwirtschaft-heute/wofuer-braucht-man-drohnen-in-der-landwirtschaft.
DJI. (2022). Agras T30 - A new digital flagship for agriculture. DJI. Retrieved 27 June 2022 from https://www.dji.com/at/t30.
Press and Information Office of the Federal Government. (2022). Drones for optimised and sustainable crop protection. Press and Information Office of the Federal Government. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from https://www.bundesregierung.de/breg-de/suche/digitalisierung-pflanzenschutz-1716622.
Söldi, A. (2021). Less fertiliser thanks to drones: An Aargau farmer tests a new technology. St. Galler Tagblatt. Retrieved 27 June 2022 from https://www.tagblatt.ch/leben/technologie-weniger-duenger-dank-drohnen-ein-aargauer-bauer-testet-eine-neue-technologie-ld.2135558.