Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Thrissur, has conducted a front-line demonstration of aerial spraying of the micro-nutrient mixture KAU Sampoorna (for rice) using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The spraying was done 30 and 50 days after the transplanting of the rice crop.

The pilot demonstration was conducted in the 50-acre Neelichira Padasekharam at Pazhayannur, and the harvest festival was conducted to celebrate the bumper paddy yield.

Suma Nair, Programme Coordinator, KVK Thrissur, said the demonstration was aimed to create awareness among farmers on the usage of UAVs for aerial spraying of micronutrient Sampoorna developed by Kerala Agricultural University. The pilot project has helped reduce the time and cost of operation to one-third. UAVs provide better and faster nutrient application than the commonly used knapsack sprayer.

The demonstration was conducted to sensitise farmers on UAVs, the new face of agricultural mechanization. The operation cost can be brought down, and the timeliness of process can be ensured by the use of drones. The farmers were also convinced about the efficacy of applying micro-nutrients to enhance the crop’s productivity potential.

Effective micronutrient application

Farmers who participated in the demonstration viewed that the average yield increased from 1.8 tonnes/ acre to approximately 3.0 tonnes/acre. This indicates that the UAV-based micronutrient application is more effective than conventional methods. It also reduces the water volume required to spray across the field from around 100 to 200 litres, for conventional spraying, to 16 to 25 litres per acre. The UAV charges ₹600/acre, which would address the skilled labour shortage.

UAV spraying takes around 5-10 minutes per acre compared to the 6-hour spray time for 2.5 acres, using the conventional knapsack sprayer. KAU experts decided the flight height, speed, and fertilizer quantity. The crop stand was healthy, and crop loss due to disease incidence was negligible compared to other paddy fields of the block, Deepa James, Assistant Professor.

Aparna Radhakrishnan, Assistant Professor, said that KVK Thrissur is comparing plant sample analysis before and after the spray to estimate the micro-nutrients present in the plant parts.

According to P.Indira Devi, Director (Agri expert), Kerala State Farmers Welfare Board, the technological advancements in agriculture that improve the system’s efficiency and reduce the drudgery of farmworkers are always welcome. By releasing SOP for drones in agriculture, the government has underlined the importance of modern technologies for agriculture development. At the same time, there is a need to assess the technology’s social, environmental and sustainability impacts.

Considering the State’s fragile ecosystem and the network of water bodies, the application of farm inputs with drones needs to be properly monitored. It would be advisable to provide formal scientific training to operators and prescribe specific protocols to be followed in the case of each chemical, she said.