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The use of drones for effectively monitoring rice cultivation

Mundiriso - drones in rice farming

Technology is redefining the agricultural landscape, introducing new methods and tools that aim to strengthen the competitiveness, sustainability and resilience of the sector.

Increasingly intelligent objects are being used in modern agriculture to perform a broad range of functions, from sensors placed in the fields to satellites in orbit, from tractors to increasing numbers of drones. This growing interconnection has given rise to Agriculture 4.0, in which every element of the agricultural system is optimised.

Emerging technologies such as high-speed connections, powerful computing capabilities, new sensors and, in particular, drones are offering unprecedented opportunities. These drones, both ground and airborne, represent a revolution in terms of monitoring and intervention. In the rice sector, the introduction of these technologies leads to new, fascinating scenarios.

The potential of drones in rice farming

In Europe, the use of drones for agriculture is at an early stage, while in other places, such as Asia, the use of drones in distributing plant protection products has been well-established for at least 20 years. It has become especially widespread with rice and wheat crops and has also developed with fruit trees and other crops.

The ability to perform these operations precisely is crucial to success, especially when working with ultra-concentrated dosages. Avoiding over-exposure or omission is crucial to prevent plant damage or sub-optimal results. Thanks to sophisticated proximity radars, modern equipment can operate at low altitudes and in direct proximity to crops, ensuring a stable flight and uniform distribution. 

However, the use of these objects in rice farming is not limited to these aspects, but rather is expanding and offering various functions.

Use of drones in agriculture: applications

In the context of rice farming, these devices can be used profitably in a wide range of applications:

  • Advanced observation and monitoring: equipped with high-quality sensors, drones can make detailed scans of rice fields. This allows issues such as pests or diseases to be detected early on. In an industry in which the weather can directly influence the harvest, this tool proves to be crucial.
  • Data collection with multispectral sensors: drones equipped with multispectral sensors collect crucial data on plant health and growth. They feature a multispectral camera that takes shots at different wavelengths to provide useful information on the composition of plants. This enables the detection of water stress, nutrient deficiencies or pest attacks.
  • Distribution of treatments: in addition to monitoring and surveying the condition of crops, drones have been surprisingly effective in dispersing various plant-protection treatments. From traditional to more innovative solutions, such as the use of biological agents, drones ensure precise distribution, minimising waste and optimising the desired effect on crops.
  • 3D imaging of fields: the technology used in drones is able to create detailed three-dimensional maps of rice fields using special algorithms. These maps can be processed using dedicated software that provides rice farmers with valuable information, such as soil morphology, plant density and yield forecasts, making more accurate planning possible.
  • Handling emergencies promptly: when faced with unforeseen events, such as extreme weather events, drones are a rapid response tool. Their ability to quickly assess large plots of land helps farmers identify damaged areas and define recovery strategies.

The advantages of using drones in rice farming

The numerous applications of drones in rice cultivation result in several important benefits, which can radically transform crop management and efficiency.

  • Accurate monitoring: with their ability to fly at low altitudes and cover large areas in a short time, drones can provide detailed information, optimising the use of resources and preventing losses.
  • Soil analysis: thanks to high-resolution sensors and cameras, they can provide soil images that are otherwise difficult to obtain.
  • Reduced operational costs: the use of drones reduces the need for frequent manual inspections in the field. In addition to saving time, this leads to a reduction in the costs of such operations by cutting down on fuel for vehicles and the work hours needed to cover large areas.
  • Environmental sustainability: these items can also contribute to achieving more sustainable agricultural practices. Thanks to the data collected, farmers can reduce the excessive use of water, pesticides or fertilisers, intervening only where and when necessary, benefiting the environment.
  • Timeliness of intervention: thanks to the accurate and rapid detection, it is possible to intervene promptly in critical situations, reducing negative impacts.

Regulations and privacy issues related to the use of drones

As the use of drones expands in various sectors, critical issues related to the use of a rapidly developing technology are also emerging. 

The Italian Civil Aviation Authority (Enac) plays a key role in regulating the use of drones, partly following European regulations.

A major concern is related to the ability of drones to capture images and videos, with the risk of invading the privacy of individuals and properties. Although in agriculture the main objective is to monitor crops, images may be captured from outside the boundaries of the plot. Aerial footage, if not properly managed, may in fact infringe the right to privacy, making it difficult to manage the required authorisations.

Another critical aspect concerns the possibility of violating airspace, which could pose a risk to aviation.

Therefore, drone operators must be well informed and comply with current regulations, using equipment ethically and responsibly, while ensuring transparency in the collection and use of data.