Cutting edge technology is enabling farmers and agronomists in South Africa to maximise production by improving plant health inspections. Drones can fly more frequently and more cheaply than traditional crop monitoring systems.

In agriculture, you can only manage what you know. Precision farming offers farmers, and agronomists, an opportunity to gather more detailed information about variability in their fields. Affordable access to drones (unmanned aircraft), equipped with photographic equipment, opens a whole new realm of opportunity.

Building on existing precision farming services, drones provide access to real time information on crop health and conditions in the fields. This new development has the potential to transform farming. At the most basic level, it will influence sustainability in farming because real time information about crop health means farmers can react quickly to any problems. 

Accessible and Cost Effective

Until now, taking photos of growing crops was only possible using manned aircraft, or satellites. The introduction of drones to farming applications means it is now possible to photograph an area of any size, with the added advantage of low operating costs. It is very expensive to use traditional manned aircraft to cover smaller areas.

Fast Access to Data

Unlike its manned equivalent, data collected by drones is immediately available to the farmer. Without delays, the farmer can verify health and conditions, identify issues and set the ball rolling on any remedial work.

Identifying problem areas during the growing season, for example nutrient deficiencies, damage caused by weather, climate conditions, or diseases and pests, can be detected and acted on almost immediately. With two cameras on board (NDVI-Normalised Difference Vegetation Index and Optic) it is also possible to zoom into problem areas and look more closely at the affected crops.

With today’s user-friendly precision farming technology, it is possible for agronomists to make recommendations that farmers can react to. The introduction of drones will most certainly increase yields and influence sustainability by increasing profit. In most instances, the imagery will identify issues that farmers could not possibly know about, or discover, by simply driving in or near the fields.

It is increasingly evident that there are areas of land where crops are under severe stress. This variability in crop health is not visible to the naked eye, but will influence yields if not acted on.

In a recent case, a farmer lost income equivalent to US$800/ha in an area where a nutrient problem went unidentified and untreated. Had the farmer been able to identify the existence of an issue and been able to act on it during the growing season, then the application of nutrients costing just US$50/ha would have saved the crop. Drone technology and real time crop surveying could have helped the farmer to generate an additional US$750/ha.

Leaf analyses and soil sampling confirmed, in this case, that unnecessary losses in yield were the outcome and could have been prevented if appropriate treatment had been applied during the growing season.

South Africa Leads the Way

SGS Agricultural Services is using the newest drone technology to inspect plant health in South Africa. Information is power, and the combination of this new technology and our expertise means that information gathered by drone can be used to deliver a more sustainable farming operation. In the field, the farm manager is the final decision maker. We use drone technology and precision farming to identify issues and offer solutions which, when implemented will help to make a more sustainable decisions.

Precision Farming Boosts Sustainability

Precision farming improves soil productivity, effectiveness and sustainability. Our precision farming services ensure that you have access to all the information about your farm that is necessary to make effective and successful decisions about crop production and sustainability. With unrivalled experience in the field, our consultants offer you more than 20 years experience. Delivering a one-stop-shop service, we offer only the most relevant and up-to-date advice on precision agriculture techniques and methods.

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For further information, please contact:

Johan De Jager
Soil Scientist
SGS South Africa
45 Promosa Road, Potchefstroom
t: +27 18 285 7000