As the agrochemical industry has stressed on the need for large scale adoption of drone technology for spraying pesticides, the Centre has asked them to work with States more closely to ensure farmers have better access to it.

“It is time to make drones accessible for farmers. There are over 200 start-ups, engaged in manufacturing and providing drone services in agriculture, who will play a pivotal role,” said Shomita Biswas, a joint secretary in the Union Agriculture Ministry. “Empanelling with the State governments and becoming custom hiring centres themselves are the critical next steps for start-ups.”

Participating at a round table ‘AgLab — Connecting Innovators’ organised by ThinkAg and CropLife India, Biswas said the Centre has involved the rural youth in this drone programme.

“Any BSc or agriculture graduate can open a custom hiring centre, own a drone, and be an entrepreneur by employing others. Youth will be the ambassadors of drone technology and hence we must leverage this segment. Start-ups in this sector can engage with them and other partners at the village level and help the growth of the agricultural economy,” she said.

Promising to help develop a conducive ecosystem and quick adoption of kisan drones, agrochemical industry body CropLife’s CEO, Asitava Sen, said in a statement that collaborations between innovators and agrochemical companies would play an important role in flattening the learning curve.

‘Create an open-source platform’

“Drone applications including spraying, crop health monitoring and data collection will be transformative for Indian agriculture,” said Hemendra Mathur, Co-founder of ThinkAg — a not-for-profit organisation working to bring together innovators and other stakeholders on a common platform.

He suggested building an “open-source platform” of the images captured through drone cameras. The image analytics can help build specific APIs as well as public dashboards on crop health, sowing area and potential yield, Mathur said. “This will need collaboration amongst drone players and a mechanism to store, share and analyse images on a common platform,” he added.

Raja Raman, Chief Business Officer of Dhaksha Unmanned Systems, said, “We have devised petrol engine-based drones (instead of battery-pack) to reduce the operational cost to ₹2.5-2.8 lakh from ₹10 lakh. They cover 30-35 acre a day with eight-hour usage with about 650 ml petrol.”

Saurabh Srivastava of IoTechWorld Avigation, said his company’s Agribot, a portable robot which can be transported via a two wheeler, has one spray cycle of seven minutes can cover 30 acres per day with minimum six battery sets.