After a few minutes spent on the office computer entering flight and insecticide treatment plans, a click of the ‘start’ button on the autonomous crop management programme sets things in motion. The drone garage door swings open, there’s a rapid rise in the clearly audible buzz from a hundred propellers and a swarm of spraying drones heads off to work as a co-ordinated team to tackle aphids threatening the farmer’s crops.
Rapid pace of drone development
This may be an imaginary scenario for now, but given the rapid pace of drone development – and more especially the software to control them both individually and in packs – it is certainly not inconceivable for the near future.
Crop treatments from individual drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are already widespread across Asia, while aviation and other relevant authorities elsewhere in the world are now allowing drones to be used for limited and specific trials and, in some cases, commercial operations in agriculture, horticulture, viticulture and forestry. Spraying for disease, weed and pest control, spreading microgranular pesticides and fertilisers – and even beneficial insects – as well as planting new forests are among the diverse uses now being found for drones.
Replacing back-pack sprayers
For the most part, drones make sense where they can replace labour-intensive and potentially harmful use of backpack sprayers and similar equipment, in situations where terrain and/or ground conditions rule out the use of conventional or even specialist vehicles. In China, where government subsidies encourage the use of agricultural drones, market leader DJI Innovation Technology claims that more than 10,000 trained operators are now using the Agras MG-1 series 8-rotor spraying drones first introduced in 2015.