When drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are being used in a wide variety of sectors, why not in agriculture? asks Dr V Praveen Rao, the vice-chancellor of Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU).
The university recently started a programme to understand the efficacy of emerging technologies like Drones and Geographic Information System (GIS) as plant protection solutions and formulate a standard operating procedures (SOPs) based on scientific evidence. This, it believes, will help governments in formulating a policy for the use of emerging technologies in agriculture.
Along with the World Economic Forum and the Telangana Department of Information Technology (ITE&C), the PJTSAU has identified five crops that will be grown in five different districts across Telangana. Observation trials and studies will be conducted on them for at least two years.
The pilot project becomes significant in the present times, says Dr Rao, because of declining resources, scarcity of farm labour, rising production costs, and lower price realisation for farm produce, etc.
“Keeping these factors in mind, we have thought of ways to enhance the efficiency of the production system. In that context, we are trying to develop SOPs for several of these emerging technologies,” he told indianexpress.com.
As part of the project that was launched last week, five centres, namely, Regional Agricultural Research Stations (RARS) Warangal, Jagtial, and Palem and also the Agriculture Research Station (ARS) in Tandur, and the Rice Research Centre in Rajendranagar will grow crops such as rice, maize, cotton, soybean, and red gram in open agricultural fields.
So what will the drones do in this project? The vice-chancellor said they can be used for spraying pesticides and fertilisers. “We will be looking at aspects like at what height should the drone fly in case of different crops, in what quantity should the chemicals be sprayed, what should be the droplet density, etc. Each crop has its height, leaf angle, leaf size, and these things matter. We are working at different levels, starting from surface-level up to a certain height,” he said.
The agriculture fields will be geo-tagged so that the drone does not deviate from its flight path, and the farmer can observe the operation from a control device. “The use of technology can enormously bring down the use of pesticides and fertilisers. This will all be done using the GIS tool and drones. There will be no human interference,” he added.
The researchers have decided to try and study the efficacy of technology for the upcoming Rabi season, take it to Kharif and the next Rabi season, too. Simultaneously, the observation trials would be extended to farmers’ fields for their views and feedback.
As the digital ecosystem is fast evolving, according to the senior agronomist, the day is not far when farmers will use drones in their fields. “Once it is standardised, we will have to institutionalise the technology. Some big farmers may purchase drones, while small farmers may use it just like in the case of a tractor, based on their requirements. We will give our recommendations on what pesticides to use, what should be the dosage, at what height should it be used, and efficacy of control, etc.”
Dr. Rao is confident that the SOPs developed will be of immense value, especially when no such protocols exist in the country. “We are trying to develop these protocols because no such SOPs are available anywhere in the country today. Even if tomorrow the government wants to come up with a policy on such emerging technologies, they need scientific evidence,” he pointed out. “It cannot be done on philosophical views.”
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