Agricultural drones are quickly becoming the tool of choice for growers around the world because drones can deliver high-concentration, small-volume sprays of pesticides. Compared with traditional agricultural spraying equipment, although drones rely on wind direction conditions, they still have good flexibility to allow farmers to apply pesticides in time without being affected by soil conditions; not only have the same coverage effect, but also reduce pesticides use of the product.
Typically, the air pressure in the middle of the boom of a traditional pesticide sprayer towed by a tractor will be higher than the pressure at both ends of the boom. If the nozzle is too close to the crop, it will cause overspray, and the sprayed fan edge area will not be enough.
For the current new agricultural drones, "pumpless calibration" and automatic exhaust can be achieved, and the spraying will be automatically stopped within milliseconds, reducing pesticide waste and improving work efficiency. However, many farmers still worry about drift. In fact, no matter what spray equipment is used, drift is everywhere. The downward wind pressure created by the drone's propeller can cause liquid to settle from the air onto the crops; however, if the downward pressure is not sufficient, increasing the flight speed will reduce the spraying effect.
It is said that most agricultural drones are designed with propellers of specific size and height in mind to generate strong downward pressure to ensure adequate coverage of the front and back of the crop. According to the USDA's agricultural drone test, repeated experiments and analysis of the results show that simply selecting the appropriate nozzle from medium to thick can significantly reduce drift; and the optimal spray height is 3 meters above the crop.
Typically, operating at 5 liters per acre, an agricultural drone carrying 30 liters of pesticide can spray 6 acres in 6 to 7 minutes, while a single battery can support 4 to 5 acres. Professional agricultural drones, such as the DJI Agras series, can fly 30 to 40 acres per hour. In 8 hours a day, three drones controlled by a remote control can complete 720 to 960 acres of land, and six drones are equivalent to a large self-propelled sprayer covering 2,000 acres per day.
Traditional large-scale spraying equipment, in addition to considering soil conditions, will have difficulties in small and irregularly shaped farmland, but drones can fly anywhere. Agricultural drones are generally equipped with a remote control, four batteries, two chargers, two water tanks, a spreader and a D-RTK 2 mobile station, and the price is only about 10% of the price of a large self-propelled sprayer, and can reduce chemical usage by approximately 30% to 50%.
Agricultural drones can not only spray pesticides, but can also be used to grow cover crops and spray fertilizers. According to a drone seeding demonstration conducted internally by DuPont Pioneer last fall, 100 pounds of red clover seeds were spread across 10 acres of soybean fields in less than 20 minutes. This means that large agrochemical seed companies like DuPont Pioneer are already considering marketing drone technology to their farmer customers.
Although the application of agricultural drones is more suitable for small farmers in Asia, especially China and Southeast Asia, and is relatively popular, in fact, its larger potential market is in the European and American markets with more developed agriculture, including North America and Australia .
These agriculturally developed areas have long been accustomed to "big agriculture" and "big farms" driven by agricultural machinery and automation, and pesticide sprayers and large self-propelled sprayers dragged by tractors are more common, so agricultural drones are more common. Both are skeptical, unsure if it will be able to perform tasks accurately and efficiently, or if it will replace current technology.
Professional agricultural drones are still a bit pricey for farmers in these areas, although they are only 10% more expensive than larger self-propelled sprayers. Like any technology product, its price will decrease year by year; and as the payload increases, especially as the drone swarm technology continues to mature, the technology will become more favorable, and there may be more opportunities to replace the traditional sprayer.
The biggest advantage of drones is that it can apply different plant protection products, including solid or liquid, and can spray irregular fields and places that are difficult to access by large machinery. Another advantage is that the system is easy to set up and operate, and can be deployed flexibly. As long as the payload of agricultural drones continues to increase, it is quite potential.
In general, agricultural drones can better and more efficiently apply agrochemical plant protection products, benefiting farmers.