The farming industry in India is at a turning point. Cost-effective land management has become critical as there have been challenges related to climatic changes as well as labour shortages.
However, there has been the emergence of several advanced farm management techniques that are helping farmers make sound decisions. Drones have emerged as a technology that has the potential to transform the agricultural landscape.
Large areas of land can be carefully monitored by drones, which can also measure slope and elevation to determine the best seeding recommendations.
The technology can also give a general overview of plant emergence and population to help with replanting recommendations, thinning and pruning activities, and yield prediction by evaluating the weather, growth, vegetation, and more.
The crop fertility status can be determined using high-resolution images from multispectral and hyperspectral imaging, which allows specialists to give recommendations on precise fertiliser and water application and minimise waste.
Overall, the use of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) in the agricultural sector is poised to provide several benefits to farmers. As a result, the usage of agricultural drones in India is increasing. However, along with the merits, there are several challenges for the farmers as well.
The market for precision farming and agricultural drones is being driven by the agricultural sector’s explosive growth, which is incorporating technological innovations into its agricultural practices.
However, despite the abundance of advantages, challenges still remain.
Cost issue: Agricultural drones used for surveying typically have fixed wings and expensive features and sensors that are required to carry out their intended use.
Some drones are more expensive because they require more expensive imaging sensors, software, hardware, and tools. Aside from the sensors and features present, the initial cost is proportional to the payload and flight duration capacities.
Farmers must also pay an additional fee for high-tech drones if they want their drones to have a longer battery life and a wider operating range. A temporary fix is to use another battery, but because lithium is so expensive, doing so also incurs additional costs.
Connectivity problem: There are issues with connectivity because many farmers live in rural areas with little access to the internet. Any farmer who wants to use drones in this situation must either invest in connectivity or purchase a drone with the ability to store local data in a format that can be transferred and processed later.
Insufficient skill: Farmers can buy drones for their own use, but they still need to learn how to fly them. The drone images cannot be analysed by the average farmer because doing so requires specialised knowledge and skills.
In these situations, the farmer must either acquire the expertise and knowledge of image processing software or hire knowledgeable staff who are familiar with the analysis software.
Despite being a boon to Indian agriculture, drones do have some drawbacks that cannot be overlooked. But these problems can be resolved using a strategy like drones as a service.
A Potential Solution: Drone as a service
Drones can help farmers with a variety of tasks and provide better data management, raising the nation’s standards for agriculture. In addition to that, drone use as a service can lessen the usual waste of labour and resources involved in agricultural activities.
Farmers will also save money on drone purchases and receive all the advantages at affordable costs. Instead, for farmers to gain extensive expertise, the DaaS providers carry out agribusiness operations such as mapping, spraying, crop monitoring, survey operations, and more.
Many start-ups that offer these services also offer trained drone pilots, who can typically help with the desired work and thus lower overall costs.
With more applications for drones, the government is encouraging startups to offer drones as a service. In the Budget 2022, the government proposed “Drone Shakti,” claiming that “drone as a service” will inspire start-ups to make it easier to use drones in the agricultural sector.
Given its many advantages, including its high field capacity and efficiency, drone technology has a lot of potential for carrying out a variety of agricultural tasks quickly and effectively.
However, the aforementioned issues must be resolved in order to increase its use in the agricultural sector. This might be accomplished by raising awareness of drone use as a service.
(The author is founder and CEO of Scandron)