90%+ precise plant distancing and gap detection report in a few hours with DJI Phantom 4 and Proofminder AI model

Understanding plant spacing and the number of missed plants is an important factor in successful crop and seed production. Plant population has a direct impact on the yield, quality, and health of the plants, as well as the overall size of the harvest. With the rise of technologies such as artificial intelligence and computer vision, the accessibility of drones and their widespread use in agriculture, it is now possible to implement trending precision seeding techniques to maximize yield and quality.

Impact of Plant Spacing

Growers strive for homogeneous emergence, as this is key to maximum yield. The quality of sowing basically determines the success of homogeneous germination, which is a critical factor for the later life of the crop.

Unfortunately, for the time being, not everyone can afford to purchase the most modern, most precise and technologically innovative sowing machines of all time, thus ensuring the accuracy of sowing. The genetic background of seed hybrids can provide a solution to uneven plant spacing.

The purpose of precision agriculture is to provide optimal conditions for each plant, that is, to create harmony between soil conditions and existing technologies to utilize our area as efficiently as possible.

Plant stand count with DJI Phantom 4

Figure 1 – Drone usage for plant stand count and plant distance measurement.

Current agricultural practices to measure plant population and distance

Manual plant distance measurement is a common method of calculating the number of plants and the spacing between them. This process assumes that the grower measures a distance manually on chosen field spots and makes assumptions. Modern agronomists already use digital scouting tools to estimate the plant number and distancing, but the biggest issue here is still the sampling approach and “guesstimations” but not solid data you can rely on to make confident decisions. In addition, none of the methods above provides information about issues or problem areas on the field, seed quality, plant performance or additional insights.

Differential seeding just makes this whole process more complex and impossible to handle with manual measures. In recent years, this technique has become increasingly popular in crop and seed production. Also known as precision seeding, it is becoming a more and more common practice. It involves adjusting the rate of seed dispersal based on the soil type and other factors, such as the rate of emergence and the size of the seed. This allows farmers to optimize the number of seeds they use, resulting in higher yields and improved crop quality.

Core practices and benefits of the differential seeding method

  • Sowing zones are formulated based on the soil’s conditions. Conditions are either based on measurements (sampling or calculated from the electric resistance of the soil) or derived from past years’ vegetation health (satellite images and vegetation indexing);
  • For zones where the soil has higher capacity (water, nutrients), growers put more seeds, resulting in less distance between plants;
  • Figuring out the right zoning is a process that takes multiple years, which leads to more precise results and helps to obtain the best agronomic decisions and outcome;
  • Stand counting is key for zoning and precision seeding process/machine quality control.

Having the exact data for comparing variability in planter unit performance or various seeds and improving the yield is extremely important.

Sowing zones quality analysis

Figure 2 – Proofminder AI-powered model for sowing quality and sowing zone analysis. 

To address the challenges of seed and crop growers, we created our new AI model to measure the plant distance and plant gap analysis at scale, which generates 90%+ precise and actionable reports in just a few hours for fields of any size.

Proofminder approach

Our platform extracts data from highly precise aerial images to provide growers with actionable reports on the level of plants or leaves across the season. Why it is different:

  • By analyzing data on a micro level, the platform sees and counts every single plant and is able to detect issues on the leaves;
  • We scan the whole field, so each cm2 of it is available to review on the screen or as a file to share, and can be used by a spraying drone or any Ag machine;
  • The Platform creates orthomosaics automatically, highlights problem zones and shows their GPS coordinates;
  • No specific knowledge of equipment is needed, we provide support and partner with drone service providers to cover the whole innovation process;
  • Quick innovation cycle and report building. It takes a few days for us to build a use case for a new plant type or a few hours to generate an actionable report for an existing use case;
  • The data can be used for other calculations on the same platform such as wildlife damage, disease recognition, yield estimation, identifying gopher holes, and many more.

In this article, we will describe our latest project for plant distancing and gap analysis with our new AI model for sugar beet, but the same approach could be applied for field crops, vegetables or trees.

Step 1. High-precise image collection

Here is the field of a large sugar beet producer in Hungary who is running various R&D projects across the season and has to measure and analyze tons of things. The challenge is to understand how different seed coatings perform on a given field. The method is to sow 6 rows of each coating and there are 50+ kinds of them. The goal is to see how they perform during the season, especially during and right after germination where the coating has a big role in preventing the seed from diseases and insects.

Using our AI model, we can evaluate the sowing quality and identify potential problems at the early stages.

Field inspection and image gathering with DJI Phantom 4

Figure 3 – Image gathering with DJI Phantom 4  for sugar beet plant distancing analysis

The producer has multiple test fields to run the experiment in different conditions. Each of them is 3-8 hectares in size so counting and documenting the experiment is a huge manual and time-consuming task. It also must be super precise as the differences are sometimes small or minimal.

As the field sizes are not that big, we used smaller drones to capture the data. DJI Phantom 4 and DJI Mavic series drones with RGB cameras are well-capable drones for these kinds of data-capturing missions.

In these kinds of missions, we cannot compromise on image quality. Fortunately, even smaller DJI drones provide excellent image quality, and we can capture the needed 0.4-0.5 cm/px. Obviously, the best is to fly in sunny conditions and light wind.


Step 2. Data processing with AI-powered model for precise plant distance measuring

After uploading images to the Proofminder platform, it took a couple of hours to get the report with:

  • Exact number of plants
  • Exact distance between plants
  • Number of missing plants per coating
  • GPS coordinates of certain weeds
  • A visual overview of the field on a micro level
  • GPS coordinates of problem zones and missing plants
  • Additional insights and the possibility to upload or share the report or file.
Precise plant stand count with AI

Figure 4 – Proofminder report: precise plant stand count

Plant stand count report with restored sowing lines

Figure 5 – Proofminder report: precise plant stand count

Plant stand count report with lines and distancing

Figure 6 – Proofminder report: plant distancing in cm. and identified missed tassels

Step 3. Outcomes

The seed producer was able to assess the protective power and refine the coating formula, which is especially important as one of the main components in their current recipe will be banned in the EU soon, and they only have a few years to come up with an equivalent or better, greener solution.

Proofminder’s mission is to help create a more sustainable Agroindustry, and to enable growers to achieve production goals with confidence.

Contact us to try out our algorithm for precise plant spacing measurement and improve your production processes.

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