As the blooming season of sunflowers is about to kick off, Ukrainian farmers have just expressed to us their needs of improving yields. Despite their efficiency, tractors can damage the soils and create soil compaction under the wheels at 80 centimeters deep. Now with the help of drones, farmers are expecting to get additional harvest on healthier soils.
As soon as the sunflower seedlings reach the surface of the soil, the taproot begins growing downward. With smaller, hairy secondary roots growing horizontally, the taproot tip can continue penetrating the soils. Then sunflower roots usually grow 1 to 3 feet deep and constantly absorb nutrients and moisture underneath the ground. This requires moister and aerated soil to nurture the whole plants.
Ukraine healthily-grown sunflowers (source: DroneUA)
The classic chumpy agriculture vehicles, however, can easily alter the crumbly soil structure into heavily compacted earth through trampling and overburden pressure. This is a major challenge that not only happens in Ukraine's sunflower fields but has also troubled many farmers across the globe.
The earth's fragile skin
In recent years, with the need to improve crop yields and feed the growing population, the weight and size of tractors has been steadily increased. The extensive use of heavier machinery has taken its toll on arable land, causing soil compaction and the loss of the physical, chemical, and biological qualities of soils.
Due to reduced air volume, less nutrient absorption and drainage of water, heavily compacted soil would make the farming ecosystem weaker. In the past decades, the world has lost a third of its arable land due to erosion and pollution. Since most of the arable land is already being farmed, it is not an option to abandon the existing plots and move on to a new one. Our only solution is to protect our earth's fragile skin.
The foundation of agriculture
Compacted soil causes the sunflower root tip to shrink in diameter or grow horizontally to seek nutrient and water. A shallow and more horizontal root system can weaken its ability to absorb nutrients and moisture deeper in the soil, which results in higher possibility of pest and disease infection.
If the quality of soil continues to decline, respiration in plants would be weakened, making the roots of crops grow slowly and even die due to lack of oxygen. Trace element deficiency is also related to soil compaction and thus limit crop yields.
How can drones help?
Simply put, nature-based solution is the best way to reverse nutrient depletion in soils. Drone, as an alternative to ground machinery, can conduct autonomous spraying operation without direct contact with the soils. This can minimise the pressure applied to farmland soils during the whole crop growth cycle, reducing soil compaction and carbon footprints.
Need to improve soil health and increase your yield? Maybe it is time to invite an autonomous aerial helper to your farmland.
XAG drone spraying sunflowers (source: DroneUA)