Microsoft using drone images and AI to help farmers improve farm yields

Soma Tah
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INDIA: Microsoft and drone maker, DJI are partnering to help farmers quickly get the information related to soil moisture in their fields and any pest infestation, without the need to spend hours and days spent walking or driving on the fields. All that the farmers need is a feature phone capable of receiving text messages.


Food production has not been able to keep up with the growth in population as there is limited amount of additional arable land available for farming. In India, the problem is even bigger as the current farm yields are lower than world average, and therefore, several activities are being taken up to improve farm yields.

This collaboration will enable farmers to use their resources – water, land, fertilizer – optimally. Farmers will be able to grow more crops and farm incomes will improve as well.

DJI’s drones provide real-time generation of aerial images, which are used by Microsoft’s machine learning algorithms on the Azure IoT Edge to create detailed heatmaps. The maps are transmitted using TV white space (TV white spaces are unused TV broadcast spectrum, which is plentiful in rural areas where standard internet connections are often patchy) technology to the Azure IoT edge device located on the farm. These heatmaps enable farmers with everything, including whether the soil temperature is ripe for seed germination, and on quickly identifying crop stress and disease that may reduce yield.


According to Dr. Suhas P. Wani, Director, Asia Region of International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), sowing date as such is very critical to ensure that farmers harvest a good crop. And if it fails, it results in loss as a lot of costs are incurred for seeds, as well as the fertilizer applications.

AI-based sowing advisories has lead to 30% higher yields for these farmers.

In India, Microsoft in collaboration with ICRISAT is also using technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cloud, Machine Learning, satellite images and advanced analytics to empower small-holder farmers to increase their income through higher crop yield and greater price realization. Under this program with farmers in Andhra Pradesh, farmers received text messages on sowing advisories such as sowing date, land preparation, soil test based fertilizer application, among others.

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