Why Indian farmers should adopt drones and associated technologies and how?

The decision of Civil Aviation Ministry, Government of India to allow the use of drones for civilian purposes from 1st Dec, 2018 opens a plethora of opportunities especially in agriculture sector. With far reaching impacts not only from the perspective for private companies in agriculture but also for farmers and other stakeholders. Drone technology is in the stage of continuous development and with several manufacturers entering the industry, it is expected that cost of the drones and the accompanying equipment will decrease over time. With the advancement of technology, the limitations like flight time and range are also expected to be solved. These improvements will ensure that farmers will be able to gain more benefit from the use of drones in agriculture which is expected to be valued at over $1 billion in 2024 [1].

Drones are being used for both civilian and commercial purposes in developed countries, especially USA where farmers are reaping benefits[2] of the technologies associated with it. The technologies associated with drones will require machine readability through customized software to provide solutions to different stakeholders in the value chain. The areas where drones have proven to be useful in agriculture are well documented – some of important areas of analysis and information that drones provide to different stakeholders are

  1. Soil and field analysis helps taking an informed decision about seed planting patterns and for irrigation and the nutrient management after planting.
  2. Assessment of biotic and abiotic stresses via real time imaging provides immediate diagnosis helping in timely application of fertilizers, water and/or pesticides
  3. Monitoring of fields for crop growth, diseases and deficiency over a period of years will help develop a database that integrated with weather pattern ensures a predictive modelling for different crops helping farmers to perform crop management tasks before hand
  4. Access to difficult terrains and
  5. Precision in ag inputs to apply water, nutrients and pesticides as and when required and in optimized quantities
  6. Drones will be effective to assess crop losses for insurance payouts byinsurance agencies.

Indian agriculture is dominated by smallholder farmers with minimal information beforehand for them to act prior to any event like water stress, nutrient deficiency and pesticide attack that can save crop losses and improve their profitability. The regulation to use drones for civil purposes provide farmers and other stakeholders in India with an opportunity to reap benefits through it is early days for use of agricultural drones in developing countries. Though initial costs of drones are high but a unique model customized to Indian condition need to be developed by all stakeholders involved especially the government, private players in Agri-input and Agtech, farmers groups and individual farmers as well. Its use and benefits in the country will be a factor of affordability, accessibility of available technologies and willingness of farmers to pay for the services. These services can be provided by start-upswith the support of government that will most probably be provided by private companies working in Indian agriculture as service providers like Hyderabad based Thanos Technologies, Bengaluru based Skylark Drones, and Mumbai Based Indrones etc.

This is the right time for government to incentivize private players to develop a customized service model for delivering services that are affordable, beneficial to farmers and commercially viable.Custom hiring of Drones for precision farming may become a trend in not so distant future in India. The government as a key stakeholder could look at some models of subsidizing drone use in agriculture for some time before it becomes profitable for the service providers and affordable to farmers.

On the other end of spectrum could be the owners of large orchards and plantation crops who have financial and technical wherewithal to use drones for different applications to optimize their costs and production efficiency. The adaptation of drone will be a positive step in the right direction for highly diverse agriculture in India and lead to increased profitability for all stakeholders including the smallholder farmers.

[1] New Study Puts Agricultural Drones Market at Over $1 Billion by 2024. https://dronelife.com/2018/02/19/new-study-puts-agricultural-drones-market-1-billion-2024/

[2]Agricultural Drones Grow Big Data, Profits for Farmers. https://www.roboticsbusinessreview.com/agriculture/agricultural-drones-grow-big-data-profits/


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