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Managing plantations with UAVs

From tagging individual saplings online to providing tools for precision farming to surveying land banks, a plantation in Thailand is finding a number of benefits of high resolution images of the plantations captured with UAVs in a cost-effective way Asia Plantation Capital is the owner and operator of a diverse range of commercial plantation and farming businesses across the Asia Pacific region and globally as part of the Plantation Capital Group of associated companies. Its focus is on multicultural and diverse plantation projects geared to the domestic and commercial demands of the countries in which it operates. APC works closely with and supports fragile local communities as an underlying core principle of its business, providing social and cultural support as well as investment to move these communities away from traditional deforestation and illegal logging activities as a main income source.

To facilitate its activities in sync with its core principal, APC wanted to have a general aerial view of the plantations so as to ascertain plantation plans are accurate and put the information online as a means to update the individual investors of the land which APC manages.

UAV surveying
For this purpose, APC engaged Avetics to do an aerial survey of their plantation. Avetics Pte Ltd develops UAVs for non-military use. For this project, Avetics deployed a team of two for four days to APC’s plantation in the Sakon Nahkon, Thailand region. Each plantation is about 20 -50 rai (administrative unit) and there are 14 in total. Avetics used the Falcon, an autonomous plane with 1.8 m wingspan, which was produced by themselves, to obtain high resolution images of the plantations which were later mosaiced into ortho-rectified aerial maps. Avetics placed these maps online using the map tile server and tagged each plantation with photos and information. This allows APC’s investors to see the progress of the plantation development online. The Agar Wood seedling is only 30 cm in diameter but can be seen in the aerial photographs. Because the cost of using the Falcon is much lower than hiring a manned plane, APC can update these maps periodically instead of once every few years. This provides assurance to APC’s investors and allows APC to tag individual saplings with information which improves plantation management.

Besides plantation monitoring, the Falcon can help plantation owners survey land banks to check for biodiversity and comply with sustainability requirements. Some forested areas do not have an airport nearby and it is costly to fly a helicopter down to survey the land.

Photogrammetry method deployed can also produce 3D maps with 15 cm vertical accuracy. 3D maps can be used to do volumetric analysis of open cast mines on a weekly basis. The relief of an area can also be found so that flood analysis can be done.

The Falcon will be fitted with multispectral camera. This provides farmers and plantation owners with a new tool to do precision farming. The multispectral map will show the difference in growth rates of crops in the field and targeted fertilising can take place instead of fertilisation of the whole farmland. This reduces operating cost since fertiliser is one of the biggest components of costs.