What Is Precision Agriculture?

Precision agriculture is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter- and intra-field variability in crops.

The goal of precision agriculture is to more efficiently apply a farm’s limited resources to gain maximum yield. A primary method for doing that is to minimize variability of crop health within and across fields. Get a Quote

The use of precision agriculture technologies is growing very quickly, globally, according to Technavio.


Due to its nature, precision agriculture requires a LOT of data to work. The three main types of data include:

  1. geo-tagged images: visible and multi-spectral aerial images taken of fields, over time; this is where drones play
  2. equipment performance: real time feedback & logs provided by sensor-equipped manned and unmanned equipment such as seeders, spreaders, tractors and combines
  3. management data: crop yield and other data provided by farm operators

To learn more about precision agriculture from a third party review, read this overview published by The Economist.

Where Do Drones Fit in Precision Agriculture?

Drones are really just a new, high-precision way to obtain geo-tagged images from the air.

Compared with other aerial survey methods, drones generate more precise and more frequent data about the condition of crops. This data is used in many ways to improve the performance of a farm’s operation.

For surveying fields of less than 50 hectares in size, drones are cheaper than manned aircraft surveillance, manned scouting and satellite imaging.

Some claim that the new FAA rules will restrict the usefulness of drones for agriculture, because under the new Part 107 rules, all observation and measurement must be taken by a drone that is within visual line of site (VLOS) of the operator. This becomes a real issue for fields and farms that are bigger than VLOS.

But the vast majority of farms don’t have this problem.

According to this report by Food Dialogues, ), there are approximately 2.1 million farms in America. The average size is 434 acres. Small family farms, averaging 231 acres, make up 88 percent, meaning that 1.85 million farms can benefit immediately from AG drones.

Drones are used to gather a variety of image-based data about the condition of crops, fields and livestock – including:

  • plant height
  • plant count
  • plant health
  • presence of nutrients
  • presence of disease
  • presence of weeds
  • relative biomass estimates
  • 3D / volumetric data (piles, patches, holes and hills)

For livestock operations, drones can be used to monitor the location, status and movement of animals over time with more frequency and at a lower cost than other means.

Drone data is used to do farming jobs more effectively and efficiently, including:

  • Crop Scouting – replace men with drones
  • Crop Health Monitoring – biggest ROI, by far
  • Field Surveying/Scouting (before planting)
  • Nitrogen Recommendation
  • Yield Monitoring
  • Plant Stress Monitoring
  • Drought Assessment
  • Senescence Analysis
  • Leaf Area Indexing
  • Phenology
  • Tree Classification
  • and more

To take quick action, orthomosaic images generated by drones can be fed into an agricultural programs to aid in better crop management, software tools to create prescription maps.

Prescription maps inform the farm operator where & what specific actions are needed, such as increasing or decreasing nitrogen spread on trouble spots.

To learn more on how Outdoor Robotics precision agriculture can help you or get a quote for using drone systems with multispectral cameras for crop management.