Nowadays, more and more innovative technologies are used in the agricultural sector. As one of them, drones (aka unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs) greatly affect farming efficiency, improve crop production, and monitor crop growth. This article will mainly introduce the functions of drones used in agriculture and demonstrate what impact they have made on the operational environment to enhance agricultural production capacity.
“Flying a drone is like being a diver. You get to see things others don’t, like having a third eye.” This is exactly the impression drones leave on an IT Engineer, the leader of the pack Haidar Baqir who launched WFP’s drones-against-hunger project.
As the saying goes: seeing is believing. What kind of magic are drones playing to assist in the completion of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially Zero Hunger? Let’s watch closely and lift the veil of the mystery.
Case Study: XAG Drones Make Zero Hunger Possible by 2030
Founded in 2007, XAG has risen to the list of the world’s leading unmanned aerial system (UAS) R&D manufacturers and smart agricultural solution providers by developing and implanting agricultural technology. The vision “Make Agriculture Smarter” motivates the firm to sail on the same track of achieving Zero Hunger as its counterparts.
Grow more with less
Large agricultural machinery such as pesticide sprayers and tractor-towing crop planters have somehow optimised crop production whereas the application of those agricultural tools may lead to soil compaction and crop waste. Scientific statistics show the mentioned phenomenon causes 8.3% of production loss every year.
To improve the situation, agriculture drones of XAG are applied to the plant protection process to help farmers harvest more crops efficiently with less waste.
Nonetheless, how to accomplish this objective? The utilisation of the UAS Plant Protection operation mode can help tackle the issue. For instance, in Northeast China (knowns as one of the major rice production regions), XAG’s fully autonomous Plant Protection UASs have served 1,331,422 hectares of rice fields, ranging from weed control, chemical treatment, fertilisation, pesticide spraying and so forth during the farming season in 2018. It resulted in a 1.1 billion kg of yield increment, producing adequate rice for 20 million people for the whole year. Without doubts, the initial success of the pilot trial made people plunge into thought. What does it mean to those people who suffer from hunger? Another question will be what will happen if the UAS Plant Protection operation model is widely used.
The soaring demand for more food attributable to the population growth is appealing to the youth to devote themselves to agriculture. However, the dilemmas resulting from urbanisation such as the serious ageing issue and shortage of labour in rural areas have become stumbling blocks. Under this circumstance, agriculture drones of XAG and other smart accessories are introduced to youth in Chinese rural areas to propel agricultural development and talent cultivation in the agricultural sector.
Moreover, growing more is simply a short-term goal whilst growing sustainably with fewer resources and waste is another priority. Abuse of pesticides has done lots of damage to the existing arable land by further restricting the land's productive potential or even devastating the land. To take Chinese practice as an example, 60% of pesticides are being wasted during the plant protection process. Pesticide consumption in China makes up 43% of the world’s total consumption with the brutal fact that China only owns 8% of the global arable land.
Hence, the iRASS precision spraying system and AI Prescription Technology of XAG’s drones are applied to effectively prevent the overuse of pesticides, detect weeds, pests and diseases to work out optimal spraying solutions. In particular, P Series Plant Protection UAS is capable of rapidly declining the use of pesticides by 37% - 60%. Corresponding chemicals can therefore attach to crops more precisely without contaminating the soil and underground water. Gladly, the whole operation process can be carried out in the affected area targeted by AI. According to statistics, XAG has succeeded in reducing 3,267 tons of chemical usage, protecting soil biodiversity, and preserving 3.4 million hectares of farmlands from compaction. There is no doubt that XAG’s UASs make the plant protection process more eco-friendly and much safer.
In addition, an estimated 3 million cases of pesticide poisoning occur every year throughout the world, leading to an excess of 250,000 deaths as indicated by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Thus, pesticide poisoning, as it were, is a severe problem in many agricultural communities. In contrast with the deadly effect caused by backpack spraying, the application of agricultural drones can significantly reduce the risks of illness and potential death. UAV operators do not have to be exposed to the pesticide directly while the spraying system can ensure less pesticide drifting through precise calculation.
Human beings can sometimes be reckless while doing their work. On the contrary, drones cannot make the same mistakes. They work as per the map operators draw and the height set initially. When drones use up the liquid, they will automatically mark the last point and fly back for a refill. After that, they will start again exactly at the last stop. Well-designed agricultural drones can be multifunctional and handy. Not only can they apply pesticides, but they can also be charged with fertilisers. Therefore, drones in the agricultural sector can yet be regarded as smart tools to save money and protect the environment.
Farm sustainably to make Zero Hunger possible
Therefore, people may raise a reasonable concern on whether XAG’s drones can manage to stimulate the completion of Zero Hunger to expound the value of “Connecting farmers to advanced technologies”. The Plant Protection UASs, Surveying UASs, Field Monitors etc., altogether innovate new business models for the rural economy.
As shown in the annual report of 2018, 13,114 units of XAG’s agricultural drones made more than 4.39 million flights. So far, XAG has more than 13,000 UASs being operated worldwide with the scope of services covering 20 countries as well as millions of farmers.
Last but not least, XAG, Alibaba Rural Taobao and Bayer launched the worldwide Sustainable Farming Program (SFP), crossing the fields of bioengineering, crop science, smart farming machinery, pesticide development, agronomic R&D, agricultural production development and traceability of agricultural products. SFP is set to benefit global farmers, grow more food using sustainable methods, and reduce the environmental impact owing to traditional farming.
To sum up, the advantages of agricultural drones are plain to see. Making effective measures, in the long run, to preserve natural resources, grow more with less, fight hunger and care for people, is still a long haul ahead.