How a 5G trial in the Netherlands could help improve drone solutions for farmers when managing their crops. 

Wilco Stollenga is an industrial engineering graduate based in  Groningen, Netherlands. He  is also the founder of Agrifly,  a small company using drones  to help farmers monitor their  crops and improve their  farming operations.   

“At a time when hardly anyone had laid their eyes on any kind of drone, I was there to buy one just for fun. I’d saved up quite some money and decided to aim straight for a reliable model equipped with a high quality camera.

“I’d already thought of a way I could earn some money with it – by taking nice aerial photographs of farms in the area and selling them to the farmers in question.”

Wilco’s business has grown fast.  

Today, he uses a drone with a multispectral camera – four lenses, each responsible for a different part of the light spectrum, take 300 pictures each across 10 hectares of land. Wilco then uses a software programme to turn those pictures into a farm map, showing the levels of photosynthesis in that area. 

“Based on this map I am able to see if there is any question of soil densification, over-planting or emerging diseases.”

But, due to patchy internet connectivity in the area, it  can take hours for Wilco’s photographs to process.

“Our goal is to use 5G to transmit my aerial photographs real-time from the drone to a server. With the help of specialised software, the entire map should then be generated within five minutes.

A pilot project between Wilco, the University of Groningen  and Vodafone Ziggo at the 5Groningen testing ground for 5G has been working to solve that using next-generation connectivity.

"In this way I can go to the field in question, together with the customer and the map, in order to inspect the soil and the crops."

So far, Wilco and the teams have succeeded in transmitting data from the drone to the server in real-time over a 5G network. They are also making good progress towards generating maps in minutes, as opposed to hours, from that data. 

"This technology has enormous potential. Agriculture at micro level – plant-by-plant – is undoubtedly the future. But in order to leverage the benefits, the entire chain has to change too, from customised fertilisation plans and cultivation advice, to adaptive machines that can work selectively. That will still take some time.”

The project continues.