Posted May 28, 2020 by amber

The benefits of using thermal drone imagery to identify crop stress

One of the most effective methods to detect disease or stress in crops is to take their temperature. This is because plants act very similarly to that of animals and humans – developing “fever” like symptoms when they get sick.

When a plant is sick, the stomata closes and the leaf surface temperature picks up due to evaporation which can no longer take place; but by deploying a drone with thermal imaging capabilities, agronomists can detect subtle temperature differences in plants before they change colour.

Here is all you need to know about how RocketFarm’s thermal drone imagery positively impacts the health of crops and compliments the plant scouting process:

Advantages of Thermal Drone Imagery

With timing being a crucial component in the farming process, being able to pick up disease or stress in plants early affords agronomist the time they need to take yield saving corrective actions, allowing them to proactively protect their bottom line.

Furthermore, RocketFarm’s thermal drone imagery can be of great value when it comes to scouting. It prevents agronomists from having to walk the entire field to identify problem areas. This saves time, increases efficiency, and helps to better focus crop scouting initiatives.

To the naked eye, crops may appear healthy but with RocketFarm’s thermal drone imagery, agronomists are able to precisely detect whether temperatures among crops are higher or lower compared to the rest of the field.

*Example of thermal imaging: Banerjee, K., Krishnan, P. and Mridha, N. 2018. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2020]

With agronomists being able to pinpoint the slightest variations in temperature through colour changes in drone imagery, scouting can now be directed to the exact, geo-referenced areas needing further attention.

For example, temperature differences identified in a field can help agronomists accurately isolate areas lacking moisture, distinguishing those crops needing water. This enables agronomists to quickly address issues before crops become stressed. Even a small amount of water applied to the right plant at the right time can make a massive difference in reducing stress among crops.

Moreover, agronomists can deploy drones to fly over their fields at a frequency of their choice (for e.g. monthly, weekly or daily) compared to that of only sending out scouts to monitor fields three or four times in a given year. The odds of identifying stressed spots are far higher using drones compared to walking an entire field.

*Barley: thermal maps – Raeva, P.L., Šedina, J. and Dlesk, A. 2019. Barley: thermal maps. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 28 May 2020]

However, it is important to note that despite the considerable benefits of using drones with thermal capabilities, this is merely a crop scouting support tool and is in no way a replacement for traditional scouting. Agronomists still need to get on the ground to determine what is causing temperature variances among crops.

An additional benefit of using thermal drone imagery is that it provides a snapshot in time and agronomists can use this information to help effectively plan for the following growth season or year. By comparing thermal data over multiple time periods, agronomists are empowered with the information they need to safeguard against making the same mistakes year on year.

The Final Word

Agronomists can incur considerable value in the farming process by deploying drones equipped with thermal capabilities. They help identify temperature differences in crops, assisting agronomists to pinpoint the exact areas needing further investigation.

Furthermore, the use of drones to consistently monitor fields enables early detection and timely corrective action. Thermal images also allow agronomists to compare yield variations over time, enhancing effective decision making.

Drones might not help fix every problem the agronomist come across but will unquestionably help to highlight where the problem is and determine how this problem will affect potential yields. This provides agronomists with a valuable support tool that will not only complement crop scouting but will also positively impact the health of crops in the future.