agricultural drones

Agricultural drones spike in use since COVID — and the growth trend is expected to continue

Agricultural drones saw a big spike in use since the onset of coronavirus — and all data points suggest that the use of drones in agriculture is expected to grow.

Drone software company DroneDeploy said they saw a 33% increase in drone takeoffs among U.S. agricultural clients from mid-March to mid-April. (San Francisco, which was the first city to tell its residents to stay home, began their lockdown on March 17, and most U.S. cities were in lockdown by mid-April).

But it might not be coronavirus specifically that’s responsible for inciting their growth. That growth trend of drones in agriculture has been there since before coronavirus.

From 2018 to 2019, DroneDeploy saw a 32% increase of drone flights across the agriculture vertical and a 55% increase in agriculture acres analyzed by drones, according to the San Francisco-based software company.

And that trend is expected to keep growing. An Agriculture Drone Market Global Forecast to 2025 report by Meticulous Research predicts the global agriculture drone market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 31.1% from 2019 to reach $5.19 billion by 2025.

Most agricultural drones are flying in North America, though Europe and Asia is seeing growth too.

“The major share of this region is mainly attributed to growing demand for high quality crops, growing cost of labor, increasing automation in agricultural practices, and favorable regulations on the use of small drones for agriculture,” Meticulous Research’s report said.

Experts say drones won’t just be a novelty in agriculture — they’re a necessity. The global population is expected to reach 9.1 billion by year 2050 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, which means food production should be increased by at least 70% to feed that many people.

Drones have a variety of use cases in agriculture. Drones have been utilized to predict weather patterns during growing seasons, and even spot diseases within crops. They can spray pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers 40-60% faster than manual spraying, while also saving 30-50% in chemicals. They’re capable of conserving up to 90% of water traditionally used for agriculture, according to Meticulous Research’s report.

Among the biggest players in the agricultural drone market are DJI, AeroVironment, Israel Aerospace Industries, PrecisionHawk, Trimble, Sentera and Parrot.

DJI is particularly interesting because — while most people know them for their camera drones like the popular Mavic and Phantom drones — they also make a$15,000 drone called the Agras MG-1S, which is generally considered one of the best agricultural drones out there for spraying.

Parrot also rose to fame for their consumer focused drones, but they also make agricultural drones, including the eBee SQ which is a fixed wing drone designed to carry the Parrot Sequoia+ — a light, multispectral drone sensor that can capture images of crops across four highly defined, visible and non-visible spectral bands, plus RGB imagery.

In total, DroneDeploy’s clients have analyzed 7.6 million acres of American farmland in the past 2.5 years. That’s slightly more than the size of all of Belgium.

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