Several years ago, we thought about creating a drone that could analyze — and even improve — the yield of a particular crop. The first one that came to mind was cannabis. At that time, black market sellers were using legalized cannabis to get into the market. In response, we decided to use drone technology as a means of tracking, focusing on the traceability of the product from seed to sale. While we looked for cannabis companies to service, we ended up receiving interest from hemp growers in Ireland who would go on to become our beta customers.

Then, in 2018, The United States legalized industrial hemp, so we decided to enter what was then an emerging market; this time, cannabis was the beta market. In 2021, the USDA estimated the value of open hemp production in the US totaled $824 million, further highlighting this market as a valuable opportunity. Although, like cannabis, hemp is not without its share of issues. Shortages of labor and water are two of the market’s most pressing issues, but ones where the integration of drone technology can help pose solutions.

Before using the drone for data collection in Ireland, our farmers could only gather data reports on their crops from a fixed-wing plane that flew all over the country. With our drones, they can now make better-informed decisions, increase their yield, and assess damages that occur after storms. Additionally, we are able to use information collected to the cloud in order to study the health of the plant, and even distinguish between a male hemp plant and a female one.

With that kind of information and analytical power, farmers can increase their revenue and mitigate issues with crops as they arise in real time, preventing waste and ensuring that their plants go directly from seed to sale. Our drones integrate high-definition cameras, sensors, GPS, and other innovative technologies like artificial intelligence with innovative software, cloud tech, and hardware components. Our cannabis and hemp farmers are now enjoying the advantages of high-tech drones for automation of their workflows. What we used to call “drone farming,” we now instead call “smart farming.”

Image by DJI-Agras from Pixabay

Why? Drone sensors can capture and store information regarding light exposure, temperature, humidity, and soil moisture. Their software can then automate the water irrigation system with remarkably precision. Drone-enabled “smart farming” enables organic farming methods and sustainable farm irrigation far more efficiently than conventional farming methods ever could.

One of the major critiques of cannabis farming is that it requires more water than commodity crops. Smart farming methods can help address these environmental concerns. For example, our technology enables farmers to survey their fields using minimal energy, as drones leave no carbon footprint. Our drones are capable of charging themselves and automatically flying whatever patterns their owners program, no matter the terrain.

In actuality, there are two types of agriculture drones used for drone monitoring — ground-based drones and aerial-based drones. The latter are suitable for spraying, crop health assessment, crop monitoring, irrigation, analyzing fields, and planting. The drone’s multispectral sensors can capture visual imagery during flight, as well as measure thermal spectrum, depth, wind speed, sunlight, and much more. Farmers use this information to draw insights into plant health parameters, plant counting, harvest prediction, crop height measurement, field irrigation and/or pond mapping, chlorophyll measurement, stockpile measuring, scouting reports, nitrogen content, drainage, and on and on. When cannabis farmers are able to combine intelligent farming methods — such as drone technology — and proper strategy based on accurate information, regulators and environmentalists celebrate; as do cannabis users.

Ground-based drones, meanwhile, are more useful in greenhouse farming applications. The data captured by the drone’s camera eliminates the need for intense, laborious monitoring, and enables the creation of optimal eco-systems for vegetation to grow healthily. Smart greenhouses can control and monitor farm climate without requiring manual intervention, thereby creating another triple-win scenario.

I’m convinced that high-tech drones are vital for the cannabis industry’s survival. Not only will they enable sustainable production, but as cannabis is legalized in more regions and its medical uses are expanded, they will help meet increasing global demands. 

Moreover, because smart farming techniques are environmentally-friendly, saving natural resources like water and reducing the need for harmful pesticides, they will also silence many critics. For an increasing number of cannabis and hemp growers, our “high”-flying farmers are heaven-sent.

Dr. Shaun Passley is a serial entrepreneur who has been featured in Irish Tech News, highlighting the major features of the ZenaDrone, as well as Silicon Republic, techbuzzIreland, Collaborate Together, Agriland, and Digital Journal showing off his expertise about the future of telemedicine in the Metaverse with EPAZZ, Inc.