The Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare has sanctioned funding of Rs 65 lakh to the Kerala Agricultural University for research and demonstration of drone-based technologies in agriculture. While Rs 35 lakh has been allotted for carrying out research on drones, the remaining Rs 30 lakh has been earmarked for large-scale demonstrations on the use of drones in fields by Krishi Vigyan Kendras in Wayanad, Palakkad, Kollam, and Kottayam.

KAU initiated drone trials in 2019 and has standardised various flight and spray parameters . The initial trials were with bio-control agents such as Pseudomonas fluorescens and micronutrient formulations such as Sampoorna for rice. From 2020 onwards, startups mentored by KAU have initiated sprays using drones in various crops, especially rice, based on procedures standardised by the University, in line with guidelines issued by the Civil Aviation Ministry.

KVKs in the State have also carried out on-farm trials (OFTs) and front-line demonstrations with drones. The spraying of Sampoorna micro nutrient using drones has resulted in a 20-22 per cent increase in yield. Drone-based spray of entomopathogenic fungi Beauveria bassiana has reduced the rice bug population in Palakkad by 80 per cent. Trials have indicated that drones can complete the spray operation 24 times more quickly than manual labour.

To date, nearly 16,580 acres of paddy have been sprayed with bio-control agents and water-soluble fertilisers using drones. Last year, KAU also helped manage bacterial leaf blight outbreaks in rice in Thrissur by spraying with drones .

The funding will give a fresh impetus to the research and extension capabilities of the Kerala Agricultural University in the field of drones, said R. Chandra Babu, Vice-Chancellor. The funding will be utilised for extending trials of drones to crops such as pineapple, banana, ginger, turmeric and tapioca.

KAU scientists will also be venturing into crop monitoring and surveillance using drones, to give a fillip to precision agriculture, he added.