Soybean Farming with DJI Agriculture Drone Solutions

DJI AGRAS T40DJI AGRAS T30

 

A complete solution guide for using DJI Agriculture drones when farming soybeans

 

Soybeans hold a pivotal role in the annals of agricultural history, tracing their origins back over 3,000 years to Southeast Asia. This legume has evolved from a humble beginning to become a cornerstone of global agriculture, serving as a vital source of plant-based protein and oil. As of 2023, soybeans have emerged as a major agricultural commodity, with world production reaching approximately 398 million metric tons [1]. 

 

The cultivation of soybeans spans across various continents, with Brazil, the United States, Argentina, and China leading in production. Notably, Brazil and the U.S. account for substantial planting areas, estimated at about 45.3 million hectares (112 million acres) [2] and 33.8 million hectares (83.5 million acres), respectively [3]. 

 

This widespread cultivation underscores the soybean's significance, not just as a nutritional staple but also as a critical player in the global food economy and environmental management strategies.

 

 

 

Confronting Conventional Challenges

 

With the global population projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, it's increasingly important to develop sustainable farming practices. While traditional spraying methods like ground sprayers and crewed aircraft have allowed for improved soybean yields, there are limitations and shortcomings that leave much to be desired.

 

Tractors, a famed agricultural workhorse, come with caveats when it comes to soybeans. The heavy wheeled machinery can cause up to 4.2% of crop loss from wheel track damage (Ref 4). Tractor wheels not only risk direct harm to crops, but also serve as potential conduits for disease transmission. There is the risk of soil compaction, which reduces the oxygen, nutrient, and water retention capacity of the soil. This is a critical uncertainty with soybeans, where fungicide needs to be applied within a 5-10 day window and the possibility of rainy weather preventing the use of tractors.

 

With crewed aircraft like crop dusters or helicopters, it is difficult to provide a quality spray penetration. The pros of traditional aerial spraying — wide coverage and rapid deployment — are offset by the cons of poor penetration, uneven application, and spray drift. Additionally, the high operational cost and safety risks to the aviation personnel are red flags that demand a reevaluation of the conventional mode of operation. These combined challenges underscore the need for more effective and economical solutions in soybean farming.

 

Benefits of DJI Agriculture Drones for Soybean Farming

 

The integration of DJI Agriculture drone solutions has injected a much-needed breath of fresh air into soybean farming. Drones bring a repertoire of benefits that solve traditional challenges and enhance farm operations across the soybean lifecycle.

 

1. Crop Protection Without Wheel Track Damage

 

The use of ground sprayers can lead to significant crop loss due to wheel-track issues. The large wheels compact the soil and can inadvertently spread diseases from infected to clean areas, both contributing to a decrease in yield. However, drone spraying presents a transformative solution. Operating from above, drones entirely bypass the issue of wheel-track areas and soil compaction. There is also less risk of disease dispersion, as the method is contactless. As a result, more area can be utilized for crop growth, particularly, soybean.

 

Calculations from EMBRAPA and drone pilot Jacson in Brazil (Ref. 4) suggest that eliminating wheel-track issues can save approximately R$450.24 ($90.95) per hectare. This shows the significant economic advantage of using agricultural drones.

 

 

 

2. Improved Flexibility in a Short Operation Window

 

Farmers typically use fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides for soybean cultivation, with fungicides being the most frequently applied chemicals in countries like the United States and Brazil. However, the key window where fungicide application is most effective lasts about 5-10 days, presenting a challenge during peak seasons for farmers with small to medium-sized lands. These farmers often struggle to quickly secure big tractor or airplane spraying services, which could lead to missed application windows and crop yield loss.

 

Adding to the uncertainties is the rainy season, which usually aligns with the soybean application period in the summer. Wet soil from rainfall can render ground machines inoperable for nearly a week, delaying essential farm operations.

 

Agricultural drones excel in overcoming such hurdles due to their exceptional accessibility and flexibility, providing a viable alternative when conventional spraying resources are scarce. Even following substantial rainfall, these drones can swiftly recommence field operations, ensuring uninterrupted progress in your farming schedule.

 

3. Increased Adaptability to Complex Terrain

 

Obstacles such as power lines, irrigation systems, and trees bordering farmland often pose a significant challenge to traditional aerial spraying equipment like fixed-wing planes and helicopters. This difficulty is even more apparent in countries like the US and Brazil, where farmers often cultivate crops such as soybeans on steep slopes or in valleys - terrains that are notoriously challenging for conventional aerial spraying and large ground-based machines.

 

However, DJI Agriculture drones, equipped with advanced sensing (binocular vision and radar) and intelligent control systems, present a solution to these problems. These drones can detect and proactively bypass obstacles like power poles and trees before they become a hazard. Additionally, when deployed over sloping terrain, these drones can automatically adjust to elevation changes with Terrain Following, to maintain a consistent height above the crop canopy, thus ensuring both safety and effectiveness in their operation.

 

 

 

4. Sustainability at Scale

 

Conservation of water remains a crucial cornerstone in humanity's pursuit of sustainable development. Traditional spraying machines, with their application rate of roughly 20 GPA (187 L/ha), pose a significant demand on water resources. This is notably challenging in arid regions where water scarcity makes chemical spraying a tough task for farmers. A prime example is the southern region of Brazil, renowned for its soybean production, where farmers have grappled with a drought for over three years, complicating their spraying procedures.

 

Agricultural drones, equipped with a formidable downward washing force and capable of producing fine droplets, provide a superior penetration effect compared to other aerial or ground sprayers. By strategically choosing chemicals designed for aerial application and low application rates, these drones can achieve excellent spraying effects while significantly reducing water usage. For instance, when it comes to fungicide spraying of soybeans in the US, the application rate of these drones usually hovers between 2-3 GPA (18.71 - 28.06 L/ha). As demonstrated by the case study of drone pilot Jacson (Ref .4), this innovative approach allows for approximately 90% of water savings.

 

 

 

Drone Application Opportunities in Soybean Farming

 

The elegance of DJI Agriculture drone solutions lies not only in their application precision but in their adaptability across the various stages of soybean growth. From sowing to harvest, drones offer tailored solutions that address the specific needs of the crop while optimizing resources.

 

During the whole life cycle of soybean, there are many spraying/spreading opportunities where the drones could be applied, like below:

 

Drone applications in different soybean grow stage:

• Before VE: Burndown and pre-emergence herbicide spraying, cover crop burndown spraying

• R3: Key window for fungicide spraying

• R6: Cover crop spreading for full-season soybean

 

 

Best Practices for Drone Soybean Spraying

 

Deploying DJI Agriculture Drone Solutions effectively involves a well-crafted flight plan. Adopting best practices is the key to maximizing the potential of drone technology in soybean farming. Below, we provide recommendations for which drones, and how to fly them, when treating your soybeans.

 

Recommended Flight Parameter Settings

 

T40

T30

Application Rate (gal/acre)

2-3 gal/acre (23.4-28 L/ha)

2 gal/acre (23.4 L/ha)

Droplet size (µm)

320 µm

XR11002VS

Flight Speed (km/h)

23 ft/s (7 m/s)

23 ft/s (7 m/s)

Route Spacing

28 ft (~8.5 m)

25ft (~7.5 m)

 

Height above the crop

Flatland: 10 ft (3 m)
Hilly land: 12 ft (3.6 m)

10 ft (3 m)

 

* These are parameter recommendations based on general conditions. Please consult your agronomist and the chemical label to evaluate result requirements and terrain characteristics before proceeding.

 

 

Case Study

To see how drones are used to aid in soybean farming, watch this case study: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zt-i5PRtHBs

 

 

Calculation process of the yield loss caused by wheel-track in the case of Ref. 4:

  • Crushed area = 0.42 m (tire width) * 2 (tire number) * 20 m (field length)
  • Crushed area percentage = Crushed area / (2 m (spraying swath width) * 20 m (field length)) = 4.2%
  • Yield / ha = 76.64 bags; Yield loss = (76.64 / (1 - 4.2%)) x 4.2% = 3.36 bags / ha
  • Price of soybean in this case = R$134.00 / bag
  • Saved yield by drone = R$134.00 * 3.36 = R$450.24 / ha

*Remark: Actual crushed rate is normally higher than in this case.

 

 

 

References:

1. https://ipad.fas.usda.gov/cropexplorer/cropview/commodityView.aspx?cropid=2222000

2. https://farmdocdaily.illinois.edu/2023/10/brazil-expected-to-expand-soybean-acreage-and-reduce-corn-acreage.html

3. https://downloads.usda.library.cornell.edu/usda-esmis/files/j098zb09z/hh63v8465/zg64w269x/acrg0623.pdf

 

 

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