Easy to use drone technology that can help farmers 'walk' crops more efficiently, will be available from creators Drone Ag, in March, this year.

Skippy Scout is a crop monitoring application (app) that uses drones to automatically capture images which are analysed by artificial intelligence (AI) to offer arable farmers filed-sized crop insights.

The phone-based app uses GPS and mapping software to fly a drone to points in a field selected by the farmer. The images taken by the drone are interpreted by the app to provide an accurate green area index (GAI) and count emerging plants. The quality of image collected can also identify weeds and is accurate enough to capture insect damage on a single leaf, said those who have developed the programme.

Northumbrian arable farmer, Jack Wrangham, founder of Drone Ag, and his team have spent the last 18 months developing the software and during 2019 worked with 200 users, ranging from farmers and agronomists to universities, such as Harper Adams.

He said drones were now 'essential tools' for farmers: “Farmers have always walked their crops. However, the time available to do this in the traditional way is diminishing.

"As farm sizes increase and labour units per ha decline, the risk of losing crops because a problem has not been identified quickly enough will increase. Skippy Scout offers every farmer the chance to see and evaluate crops easily and efficiently using just a phone and a drone.”

Each set of results from Skippy Scout's is recorded to allow for future comparisons to be made year-on-year. Mr Wrangham added: “Technology is not a threat to farming, it is an aid that can save time and money. Adapting farming methods to make use of technology, like Skippy, is crucial if agriculture is going to provide for the world’s ever-growing population. We have involved hundreds of farmers as trialists and many more are waiting to use it in 2020.”

Drone Ag got much of the investment needed to develop Skippy Scout by crowdfunding and will launch the product in March. A partnership with drone specialist, Heliguy, will offer farmers the opportunity to lease a package of drone and software.