20th May 2016

SOYL predicts extensive adoption of UAV technology by UK farmers

SOYL UAV in air2UK precision crop production specialist SOYL predicts a steep increase in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or ‘drones’ as five years’ investment and development in this area starts to translate into farmer-friendly tools and technology.

“There has been a lot of talk about UAVs and clearly they are a very exciting concept for precision data collection. We are now starting to see progression in this area with easier operation, increased flight times and simple processing being the key areas enabling us to more easily translate the resulting data into advice and specific crop prescriptions for growers,” says SOYL’s commercial director, Simon Parrington.

“SOYL’s flight operations team have had their busiest six months since we gained Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approval to operate UAVs three years ago. Demand for the type of information UAVs can provide is up 300% on last year already for us and we believe this is just the start. Most of this is coming from larger growers, often growing specialist crops but we are also providing data to companies running replicated trials research.”

Andrew Hartley, national trials manager for Frontier Agriculture explains: “Using information gathered by the UAV, and interpreting it with SOYL’s help, has given us a new dimension to viewing our trials plots when we carry out assessments and compare analysis of their progress. The ability to look from above, use different types of cameras and capture and compare images opens up many more research possibilities. It also enables us to verify data we have already gathered in the field and to pick out differences that wouldn’t be visible from the ground with the human eye.

“This level of information is useful for trials but offers farmers a real opportunity too. For growers the attention to detail made possible by this technology should make a big difference to managing inputs and so their cost of production to get the maximum from the growing crop. The exciting thing is we’ve yet to exploit the full potential of this technology.”

SOYL says it has become clear that a range of UAV platforms and sensors are needed in order to adequately meet the varying needs of different growers.

SOYL helps farmers to use this technology with three key service areas:

  • ‘SIGHT’: For broad acre arable crops where rapid data collection over blocks of land 200 hectares plus is typically used for weed and disease identification. High daily output, medium resolution.
  • ‘PLOT’: Offering and improving accuracy and efficiency of routine measurements such as biomass, crop height, establishment and responses to treatments.
  • ‘SIGHT+’: Plant counts and automated quality measurements to improve harvest planning and efficiency.
Nick Sheppard, operations manager for J.E. Piccaver (growers of salad crops) says: “Use of SOYL’s UAV service flying over our crops of lettuce highlighted the variance in plant spacing down the row being delivered by the planter we were using at the time. The data and images from the UAVs helped justify the purchase of a more accurate lettuce planter. We’ve since seen a benefit in improved crop establishment, crop uniformity, more consistent crop availability and a more even crop to suit all of our customers.”

Mr Parrington concludes: “As a UAV operator we differ from those who offer UAV only services. Not only do we organise and carry out the aerial data collection, we then have the precision technology and agricultural expertise to analyse and interpret that data into advice and prescriptions. This maximises efficiency and increases the potential benefits gained from UAV data.”

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