Agricultural drones: enabling precision agriculture

Agricultural drones: Enabling precision farming (Credit: shutterstock)

Agricultural drones are used to perform precision farming. The government lobbied for their large-scale use in agriculture. In fact, he wants drones to be used like other agricultural equipment like manure spreaders, cart pumps, spray pumps, etc.

Last August, the Ministry of Civil Aviation liberalized the drone use policy. It allows certain types of drones to fly without prior authorization. This was followed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare issuing the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for the use of drones in the spraying of pesticides in agricultural, forestry and non-crop areas. Then, in January of this year, the department changed its policy to include drone grant proposals, allowing agricultural producer organizations (FPOs) to receive a grant of up to 75% of the cost of an agricultural drone.

The following month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually launched 100 Made in India agricultural drones, which carried out agricultural operations in simultaneous flights. He called the exercise a ‘milestone’ for Indian agriculture and later tweeted: ‘This is a new chapter in the direction of modern 21st century agricultural facilities. I am confident that this debut will not only prove to be a milestone in the development of the drone industry, but also open the skies to unlimited possibilities.

A study conducted by strategic consulting and market research firm BlueWeave Consulting suggests that the Indian agricultural drone market is expected to witness a forecast CAGR of over 25% from 2022 to 2028.

Agricultural drones are used to improve the efficiency of agricultural operations, crop yield and crop growth monitoring. First, they are used in crop valuation, which will help in the prompt settlement of insurance claims. Second, they are deployed for the digitization of land records. The government pays for these services. Third, in spraying, for which farmers have to pay.

The government lobbied for their large-scale use in agriculture; he wants drones to be used like other agricultural equipment like cart pumps, provided government-issued SOPs are followed, and only drones approved by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). In addition, the pilot must be DGCA certified and must not consume alcohol for eight hours before the flight.

The important role they play in agriculture has attracted more attention as almost half of India’s population depends on agricultural income, but the majority of farmers are smallholders with low yields. Experts believe drones could transform this by making farming efficient; Precision farming technologies have been shown to increase yields by up to 5%. For example, drones equipped with normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) imaging equipment can provide detailed color information to determine plant health.

Agricultural exporters could also deploy drones for quality control, as automation can help control the level of pesticide sprayed, thereby reducing residues. This is an essential requirement for exports to developed markets.

“We educate farmers on the use of technology, what precision farming can do and how it would improve spraying, resulting in less pesticide, fertilizer and water consumption. Instead of 200 liters of water, it does so with only 10 liters. Where manual spraying takes hours, drones do it in minutes in the same field size. Drone applications in agriculture will be faster and more economical for farmers,” RG Agarwal, President of Dhanuka Agritech told Rural Marketing in an interview.

However, the costs involved are still high. An agricultural drone, usually operated using smart internet-based technologies, undertaking spraying to monitor crop health, can cost anywhere from ₹5 to 10 lakh. Additionally, the agricultural drone market is fragmented and new entrants are discouraged by high capital requirements and the need for continuous R&D spending. Companies such as Garuda Aerospace, Thanos India and General Aeronautics are some of the renowned names in the market. The government’s recent decision to ban the import of foreign drones, except those used for research and development, defense and security, has not solved the problem; imported ones are 25% cheaper. But he allowed the import of drone components, as Indian-made drones depend heavily on China for them.

With increasing global food needs, there is continued pressure to increase agricultural productivity and crop health in order to increase production. For India, being a major agricultural producer, the opportunity for industrialists is immense.

In January 2022, the government offered 100% subsidy till March 2023 to Agricultural Machinery Training and Testing Institutes, ICAR Institutes, Krishi Vigyan Kendras and State Agricultural Universities, to promote the use of drones for agricultural purposes and to reduce the workload. on farmers. The 2022-23 Union Budget announced a special push for agricultural drones with the aim of creating public-private partnerships for high-tech agricultural services.

For agencies that do not want to buy drones but want to hire them for demonstrations, the government has provisioned a contingency expense of ₹6000 per hectare. Additionally, hiring centers will also receive special funding to provide agricultural services via drones; 40% of base drone cost.

Precision agriculture is a rapidly growing trend in agricultural management globally, and India cannot afford to be left behind. It is evident that with the agricultural sector incorporating technological improvements in its operations, the growth of agricultural drones is expected to be driven by it. Experts predict that by 2050, the world’s population will reach 9 billion, and our agricultural consumption is also expected to increase by almost 70% at the same time. This means more efficiency in agriculture to ensure a high yield in a sustainable way. Another factor inducing the adoption of technology is the shortage of labor in the sector. In this context, drone technology such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and remote sensing capabilities will undoubtedly play a crucial role in transforming the sector.

Read more: Dhanuka Agritech bets big on drone applications in agriculture is now on Telegram. Click here to join Rural Marketing on Telegram and stay up to date with the latest news and updates on rural business and the economy.