Drones are Opening up a Huge Opportunity in Agriculture Sector!
According to the United Nation’s report world population is projected to reach 10 billion by 2050. For this growing population farmers will need to produce more food while preserving the environment for future generations. And being an informed part of society we also have a duty to help them to achieve this. Technology is becoming an integral part of our modern lives, the same way technology is also playing an important role in today’s agriculture sector as well. The farmers have already started using new technology in agriculture and these precision agriculture technologies have boosted crop yields significantly in the last decades.
In developing countries like India, over 80 percent of the rural population depends upon agriculture. But the farms then and now are facing challenges and losses due to diseases coming from the pests and insects, which, therefore, reduce the productivity of the crops. To get rid of these farm pests and insects as well as to increase the crop yield, many pesticides and fertilizers are used in the fields.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around one million people are affected with improper handling/manual spraying of the pesticides. The pesticides may cause harmful effects to human health and to the environment. The improper handling may result in severe acute poisonings; in some cases, adverse health effects may also result from long-term, low-level exposures of pesticides.
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) – is the new trend in the agriculture sector. But the question is, what do they have to offer to the agriculture sector? These UAVs have been around for about a century. Variety of UAV models have been running on military and civilian applications. So what’s new? These aircrafts are used to spray the pesticides/fertilizers in the fields to avoid the health problems of humans when these pesticides are sprayed manually. UAVs can be used easily, they are very fast, and they can reduce the workload of a farmer.
Latest advancements in the commercial drone sector have made the technology cheaper, lighter, safer and more sophisticated. All these factors make the utilization of drones affordable. The drones can fly on autopilot mode. These large Unmanned Vehicles fitted with tanks for carrying fertilizers or pesticides follow pre-mapped routes and spray crops accordingly. These are not only the examples of new technology replacing old farm equipment; in fact, they have a capability to go where the tractor or any other field vehicle can’t go for spraying. That’s one huge opportunity these drones are opening up! These drones are able to solve many problems related to agriculture. Some examples are mentioned below;
Early Pest Detection: Based on the crop, farmers survey their field several times per week. For example, a potato grower usually goes to the field at least 3 to 4 times per week during the growing stage of the crop. The potato crop is mainly infested by the pests like the Colorado potato beetle. This pest spreads extremely fast and destroys hundreds of hectares per day. As soon as you get to know this problem, it’s cheaper to get hold of it. If you get to know this, the time it has started, you can fix that small spot right away and can stop it from spreading ahead. This will save time as well as labour cost. The drones/UAVs are helpful to conduct a survey of the fields with their “multispectral cameras” and to detect where the infestation has started.
Assessing Wildlife Damage: Wild animals like dogs, pigs, deer and rabbits are invasive pests that cause major damages to the fields and animals like sheep and cattle. These pests are destructive to the country’s unique biodiversity. To get rid of them some farmers have lost up to thousands of dollars worth of sheep and some have spent hours in defending them. The present solutions available are more preventive like, baiting pests or blocking them out with fencing. These surveillance drones help to locate these pests and allow the farmers to deal with them by eradication. Sometimes the damage to the crops goes unnoticed, which leads to huge losses to the farmers. The damage caused by deer and insects as well as floods, hailstorms, or fires can all be assessed by drones which fly at a particular height. So the farmers can work while the drone collects data for them!
Reducing Pesticide Usage: As consumers nowadays are becoming more conscious about the foods they eat. Also, they have concerns about the amount of pesticides used in crop cultivation. However, farmers need to use pesticides to avoid losing their crop to pests. The drones are the intelligent devices which survey the land using “multispectral cameras” which could track the electromagnetic spectrum of the field. This can help farmers to assess disease, pest infestations, and fungi formation which could damage their crops before they become an issue. As well as this precision spraying will help to reduce the use of excess pesticides and lead to a more natural crop.
Drones are New Technology in Agriculture, So What?
Drones are capable of solving so many problems like early pest detection and assessing harsh weather, etc. You might be thinking that this has not been a problem for your farm so far, and then what’s the point of opting for this technology for your farm? However, just as technology is taking over the agriculture sector, the pests are also changing. The species like the beetle can cause serious damages to crop yield because of which the farmers can lose hundreds and even thousands. With the help of drones they can be detected early.
Drones may be automated but they still are a costly option. They require humans to pilot, programme and service them. But the reducing cost of drones and sensors is likely to encourage more successful applications of the technology on farms. In other words, it’s only a matter of time!
* Associate Editor, Food Marketing and Technology Magazine (Source available upon demand)