Drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, are used to hunt cocaine farms in Colombia; film companies use them to shoot breathtaking panoramic landscapes. It seems that drones have penetrated into all branches of industry. Agribusiness is no exception. Bonduelle Group has shared its experience in using drones in the fields and described the prospects of the UAV market.
Drone is a farmer’s best friend
Agricultural drones are capable of doing various types of research in a short time, something even great scientists cannot do. They can analyze the farmland and chart 3D-maps, or calculate the NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index). These flying scientists are also sent to plant seeds and trees, treat the crops and monitor their condition.
Although drones have not been used long, a number of trends can already be traced. First, the use of UAVs in agriculture has triggered a rise in demand for B2B services, as well as the services of IT companies that develop software for farmers’ use. The most advanced agricultural companies are gradually introducing robotized systems where the drone charges its own battery, flies itself to the fields and does research, then returns and loads the data into the processing system. The farmer can just sit back and watch the process.
The Krasnodar Quartet
For comparison: Japan has been actively using drones for treatment of fields for over 20 years. In Russia, their jobs are still limited to gathering information. However, there are some good examples of Russian companies using drones in developed agri-industrial regions. For example, canned vegetable food producer Bonduelle has four drones. The winged quartet treats 10,000 hectares of cropland in the Krasnodar Territory and is involved in trials of organic vegetables cultivation projects: the drones spray the 100 hectares allocated for the project with predator insects that destroy pests. Bonduelle operates Aqua Spy soil moisture sensors, which use ultrasound to measure root depth, detect the date and depth of the last irrigation, and provide detailed data on soil moisture at various depths. All data is displayed in infographics understandable even to someone not skilled in agriculture.
How profitable is it?
The company now can not only reduce the use of pesticides, but also purchase less fertilizers because it monitors the NDVI and can now use fertilizers selectively. Bonduelle plans to increase the share of organic food by 7% by 2022.
The average cost of one drone is RUR 100K ($1.5K). A drone can process the data from 50 hectares. It is more low maintenance that the usual agricultural biplanes. For instance, the cost of a used Fermer-2 plane for crop dusting is some $170K; it is used in large areas and has a short list of features. Using the Cropio field management control system, Bonduelle monitors the condition of the vegetation and can forecast the crop yield. The system helps plan agricultural activity and is an ideal instrument for collecting and integrating data from various sources and has a lot of useful features. The maintenance cost is $1.25 per hectare plus telematics and 1$ or each machine integrated with Cropio.
Drones service agro-industrial sector
Markets and Markets, a market research firm, has forecast that the annual growth of the drone market in the agro-industrial sector will be 30% (up to $4.2 bln) by 2022. Company experts say that it will happen due to a gradual relaxation of the regulatory climate all over the world. Experts at the PWC professional services network believe that the agricultural drone market will reach $32.4 bln. At the same time, they say that the growth will be directly proportional to the growth of the world population. The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems in its official report says that by 2025, 80% of the drone market will be used in agriculture.
In this context, Bonduelle will increase the use of drones to monitor its other fields that produce vegetables.
Agribusiness goes hi-tech
Involving drones is not the ceiling for the smart farming sector. There is a vast number of research and development projects that aim to increase agricultural production. A student at Vinnytsia Technical University has developed a sensor for soil treatment depth control. The device, dubbed Craft Scanner, is underway in the testing phase. Soil treatment depth is soon expected to be monitored with planting cultivators, sowing machines, and ploughs.
Actually, digital and information technologies are beginning to dominate the agricultural industry. This is evidenced by the development strategy of Farmers Edge, a global leader in decision agriculture. In 2019, Farmers Edge is planning to launch some 90 new digital agronomic tools, which will allow manufacturers to make decisions basing solely on their own data. The developments include CanPlug, a telematics device for real-time tracking and transfer of equipment data; eScout, an advanced platform to monitor field conditions and receive data on harvest and crop diseases, pests, and weeds; and FarmCommand, a mobile version of the fully-integrated farm management platform for prompt transfer of field data.
By Andrei Khavrai, Managing Director of Bonduelle Russia