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The Aerial Perspective Blog

Drone Soil Analysis: Multispectral Remote Sensing for Soil Mapping

Michelle Via  |  May 20, 2021  |  1 Comment
Drone Soil Analysis: Multispectral Remote Sensing for Soil Mapping

Keeping the land healthy and productive requires care and conditioning practices that have been honed over millennia. In recent years, natural fertilizers have been replaced with synthetic nutrients in many places — a choice that allows farmers to make advanced land management decisions to maximize yields. However, the natural balance is still an important part of sustainable production, and farmers need to be strategic about monitoring their soil composition.

Agricultural technology is helping farmers gather more accurate data about their fields so they can make more informed decisions. One example of newer technology is drone-enabled multispectral remote sensing for soil mapping, which can analyze acres of farmland using advanced sensor technology.

 

What crops need

As any farmer knows, effective crop management requires a balance of soil conditions and other environmental factors. No farmer has control over rainfall, heat waves, or devastating winds (like 2020’s midwest derecho), but they can manage the land to compensate for those factors as best they can. 

The ideal levels of nutrients, salinity, and moisture will vary depending on the crop in question, but the balance always needs to be carefully monitored. 

 

As a general rule, plants require a soil composition that includes: 

  • Non-mineral elements: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen
  • Minerals: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and more
  • pH balance: not too alkaline, not too acidic

Nitrogen-level management is especially important for farming. Even with today’s advanced farming practices, maintaining the right nitrogen balance in soil can prove difficult. Crops will suffer when nitrogen is too scarce, but at the same time, chemical-heavy farming practices can do permanent damage to topsoil if not carefully applied. 

Thankfully, new innovations are giving farmers and researchers a bird’s-eye view of the issue. 

 

Multispectral remote sensing

Drone soil analysis uses sophisticated imaging technology and unmanned aerial vehicles, known popularly as UAVs or drones. 

This technology performs soil and field analysis using drones affixed with remote sensing cameras that collect information on the electromagnetic spectrum of light reflected back from the land below. Different elements reflect unique wavelengths of light that can be used to identify them. Multispectral imaging sensors collect reams of data on those wavelengths, powering advanced AI software that can pinpoint differences in elemental soil composition. 

Using advanced GIS mapping techniques and photogrammetry for landform identification, a detailed understanding of on-the-ground conditions can be produced for large amounts of land in a short amount of time.

 

How can multispectral imaging help with soil mapping? 

Using insights gathered from drone soil analysis, farmers and engineers can team up to determine the ideal seed planting patterns, appropriate watering and fertilizing strategies, and more. 

Of course, the more precise measurements needed for targeted growth yields may require traditional soil sampling. But multispectral imaging is valuable for producing a scaled map of conditions across large swaths of farmland. With multispectral maps of their fields, farmers can make more informed decisions about where to take soil samples — which helps them understand the full range of soil quality across their property.

Multispectral soil mapping in agriculture can be performed regularly to get a long-term understanding of how crop production is impacting the health of the soil over time. Photogrammetry can also be used to track erosion and plant density in addition to nutrient depletion, giving farmers a valuable weapon in the fight against dangerous topsoil degradation

 

Monitoring soil year-round

With advanced land monitoring technology at their fingertips, farmers and researchers can track key indicators of soil quality long after the seeds have been planted.

Soil and field analysis drones can help with monitoring soil and plant density throughout the growing season to prevent “surprises” from coming up later on. This proactive monitoring can help farmers stay ahead of any issues and make changes as necessary (e.g. add nitrogen fertilizer, adjust irrigation, etc.) to maximize crop health. 

Proactive water monitoring, erosion prevention, and nutrient replacement all put farmers in a better position to compensate for environmental factors, such as long-term drought or flooding. 

It also allows farmers to prepare for short-term weather cycles, diagnose unhealthy sections in crop stands, prepare soil for seasonal rotation, and more.

 

Conclusion

Monitoring soil composition and conditions is important for modern farming practices. Like most things, the more accurate data you have, the better. 

With multispectral soil quality maps of their fields, farmers can make more informed decisions about where to plant which crops and when to make adjustments. The result? Bigger, healthier yields with more sustainable land management practices.

Get on the cutting edge of remote sensing technology with innovative solutions for your industry. Learn more about how Mapware supports advanced photogrammetry and sign up for a free trial of Mapware today.