French seed industry pionneers in precision agriculture
Precision agriculture enables to produce better (improve the ecological performance of agriculture) and more (improve the economical performance) since it puts together agronomy, ecology and technology ¹ .
The Precidrones Project
The PRECIDRONES project aims to setup new services to farmers on the fields of fertilization, weeding, irrigation and yield, based on long distance UAVs (Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle) and image analysis software. This 5-years study launched in 2015 has been labelled by competitive clusters such as Agri Sud Ouest and Aerospace Valley ² .
This project gathers among the biggest agricultural cooperative in France (Arterris, Maisadour, Vivadour and Terres du Sud) and Invivo. Academical partners (INRA, LAAS, Arvalis Institut du Végétal and Terres Inovia) are integrated in the project and will work on the development of new biophyisical index calculation. Delair-Tech provides long range UAV solutions and the image processing platform ³ .
The aim of such a project is to develop a long-distance-UAV imagery system along with the associated image processing algorithms and agronomic models. Such information provided to decision-making assistance tools would enable precision agriculture on Wheat, Corn, Sunflower and Rapeseed.
This projects opens the door to potential new applications in very specialized areas such as normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI). NDVI, a ratio of several wavelength bands typically re-emitted by plants, was originally used by satellites to create maps with a vegetation index. But when using the same technique on a smaller scale (with a drone flying 70m above the ground), that ratio is said to be correlated with several plant characteristics including biomass, leaf area index and chlorophyll concentration ⁴ .
“Though the (NDVI) ratio is unlikely to be correlated with all these variables at once” said Boris Calvet, Maisadour Semences’ agriculture assistant for Spain and Southern France : “Getting one (element) of this information for all our hybrids with a single drone flight could be interesting; that’s why further investigation could be carried out.” But still Mr Calvet said “I think plant counting is still by far the most promising one.” ⁴
The project is now entering the Phase 2 in 2017, a second year of testing in orger to adjust the development of variables and agronomic models. Most cooperatives in the project are considering to be able to deliver long-range UAV services to their members by 2018. ⁵