Drones, Sustainability and the Agri-Food Industry

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Drones, Sustainability and the Agri-Food Industry

Article Date: 29/06/2018 


Jack Hogan, International Markets Executive, Bord Bia – Irish Food Board

The world’s population is projected to reach 9.8 billion people by 2050, experts expect agricultural consumption to increase by nearly 70 percent over the same time period. The world will have to produce more food to feed a growing population with a smaller rural labour force. Drone technology is already aiding in the agriculture industry’s response to this challenge:


Drones fitted with multi-spectral sensors allow a farmer to precisely apply needed water, fertilizers, or pesticides only where they are needed instead of applying the same amounts across the entire field. These sensors acquire imagery in bands that can sense vegetation health and identify areas in the fields that are nitrogen deficient through a process known as Normalized Difference Vegetation Index.

Herd Monitoring

Drones are being utilised to monitor dairy herds. Gareth Powell, a UK dairy farmer, is using a drone to check on the health of his herd “if an animal has been unwell, a drone can be used to keep an eye on it from a central location, without the hassle of going into the field and disrupting the rest of the herd”. Drone systems that will enable remote application of insecticide are also currently being developed.

Herding Cattle

Drones could soon be putting dogs out of a job, the ability of drones in herding cattle has been demonstrated in a number of videos which have appeared online. Hayden Fowles, a farmer from New Zealand, said his drone is proving invaluable when it comes to herding his 188 Friesian cross cows for milking, saving time and also helping him spot sick animals.


Drone-planting systems are currently being developed for wide scale use, these drones can achieve an uptake rate of 75 percent and decrease planting costs by 85 percent. These systems shoot pods with seeds and plant nutrients into the soil, providing the plant with all the nutrients necessary to sustain life. With 3-D mapping technology on board, drones collect information on critical factors, including field geography and soil composition early in the planting process which helps farmers adjust seed-planting patterns.


Drones can actually be used to catch fish, as proven by this video, but a more viable use of drones in the seafood industry is to carry out fish stock assessments, using drones to carry out these assessments provides a more efficient and cost-effective alternative to oceanographic vessels. Some drones are capable of landing on water, making it possible to measure the quality/temperature of the water.

Drones will allow farming to become a highly data-driven industry, they are a valuable tool which can enable farmers to increase profitability and sustainability through data-driven insights.

For more information please contact Jack.hogan@bordbia.ie

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