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Drones to reboot farming activities

Drones are being increasingly used for precision fertilizer and pesticide applications and identification of diseases and plant conditions

April 09, 2022 06:56 pm | Updated October 10, 2022 11:54 am IST - KOCHI

Agriculture department officials demonstrating aerial precision spraying of fertilizer on paddy. A scene from the Peringara polders near Thiruvalla in upper Kuttanad.

Agriculture department officials demonstrating aerial precision spraying of fertilizer on paddy. A scene from the Peringara polders near Thiruvalla in upper Kuttanad. | Photo Credit: Leju Kamal

Aerial drones look set to bring about major changes in agricultural activities in the State just as elsewhere in the world. The Centre has come out with a policy to encourage the deployment of drone technology in various fields and has provided concessions for the same.

Drones are being increasingly used for precision fertilizer and pesticide applications and identification of diseases and plant conditions. Start-ups have helped the spread of the technology with increasing sophistication and they say farmers and those in other areas have eagerly embraced the use of drones both for aerial and underwater operations.

Though the Department of Agriculture and the Kerala Agricultural University (KAU) are yet to come out with guidelines on the use of drones, trials have been undertaken in different parts of the State on the use of the technology.

Department sources say the use of drones can help in judicious use of fertilizers and the technology has been widely deployed in neighbouring States. Drones can also be used for pest and disease management. The use of the new technology can help the State come closer to the goal of achieving food security through enhanced agricultural production.

Recent trials and demonstrations have helped farmers embrace the unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) technology and it can pave the way for addressing the shortage of manpower as well as help in precision use of fertilizers and pesticides in farming activities. Manual spraying can result in pollution of both air as well as waterbodies because of excessive applications. However, using drones can help reduce these impact.

The Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Thrissur, recently conducted frontline demonstrations on applying micronutrients developed by the KAU specifically for rice in Wayanad and at Pazhayannoor. The results are under analysis. The demonstrations have been conducted under strict supervision adhering to protocols. The KAU-developed micronutrient Sampoorna is fully organic and posed no threat to the environment, sources say.

The use of drones not only reduces the use of fertilizers with precision application but also helps save time. The spraying of fertilizers, which takes about six to seven hours when done manually, can be done in about 10 to 15 minutes.

Devan Chandrashekharan of Fuselage Innovations, an agri start-up based at Maker Village in Kochi, has been involved in providing drones for agricultural activities for about a year-and-half now. He says drones can help reduce farm input consumption by about 70 per cent and increase production by about 30%.

The company has been involved in helping mostly paddy and tea plantations in Alappuzha, Thrissur, Kottayam, and Idukki. It has been working with farmers in about 15,000 acres in these districts, which includes about 4,000 acres of kol paddy fields in Thrissur and about 5,600 acres in Alappuzha.

Gopala Menon, a farmer at Pazhayannoor in Thrissur, says about 50 farmers who used drones for spaying fertilizers on about 50 acres in the Neelichira paddy collective have been pleasantly surprised by the results. “The yields have been great. While in previous years, the yield used to be about one tonne to two tonnes of paddy per acre, the use of drone resulted in the yield going up to 2.75 to three tonnes per acre.”

“The growth rate was better and no pesticides were used,” he says and points out how millers, who procured the paddy “Ponmani” (CR-1009) mostly grown in Tamil Nadu for Supplyco, were impressed with the quality of paddy. There was little chaff in the harvest. The farmers now plan to bring out a special brand of the paddy from the Neelichira collective under its own name, says Mr. Menon.

He says farmers had suffered immensely after the floods of August 2018 as soil fertility had considerably been reduced. Over the past two years farmers had little returns from the fields with the yield remaining around five to six tonnes per six acre. However, the use of drones resulted in improving productivity to about 16 to 18 tonnes from six acres.

Sameer P., a farmer in Cherthala, says use of drones has great advantages over manual activities, including spraying of pesticides. While manual spraying requires about 50 litres, drones have reduced the use to about 10 litres per acre. Besides, when manual spraying is done during the last stages, a lot of paddy plants are damaged. However, the use of aerial vehicles prevents such damage.

He has rice cultivation in about 170 acres, where the Uma and Pokkali varieties of rice are cultivated. Mr. Sameer has been using drones for about two years now.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture Insurance Company of India (AIC) will integrate remote sensing technology and drone usage in crop loss assessment.

AIC sources say technology integration in crop insurance will ensure accurate and timely loss assessment which will ensure timely settlement of claims.

AIC, constituted in December 2002, caters to crop insurance requirements of the country. The General Insurance Corporation of India, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, National Insurance Company Limited, The New Indian Assurance Company, The Oriental Insurance Company, and United India Insurance Company are shareholders in the AIC.

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