Using drones to tweak fertiliser applications to wheat crops increases returns by an average €69/ha, according to a large-scale French trial.
This extra return was through a combination of higher yields, better use of fertiliser and hitting protein specifications for milling to capture premiums.
Carried out by French Co-op Ocealia, the independent trial was carried out across 500 growers in the west and south-west over a three-year period. It compared fields managed using drones to generate variable nitrogen maps with those given a fixed rate using the farm’s standard approach.
Drones were flown over fields measuring plant dry matter and nitrogen to precisely estimate crop requirements – thereby generating variable fertiliser zones.
On average, fields received 13kg/ha more nitrogen where a precision approach was being taken. This resulted in a 0.32t/ha yield increase, giving an average yield of 6.56t/ha at 11.5% protein or higher.
Mr Abdennebi explains the drone sensor measures chlorophyll in the crop, generating a normalised difference vegetation index map that highlights variations in crop vegetation across a field. Financially, this lifted margins by €103/ha in 2015. Amaury Abdennebi, customer support manager at Airnov, highlights that even in the difficult season of 2016, there was still a financial benefit of €32/ha.
This data is then used to make fertiliser application maps, targeting fertiliser where it is needed.
Mr Abdennebi adds it also cuts unnecessary fertiliser use. “There may be areas of the field where the crop has failed and there is no point applying fertilising here.”