It is springtime and in China’s Anhui province, farmers are using agricultural drones to spray the wheat fields with pesticides to control blight and other diseases. An unmanned aerial vehicle can spray more than 3,000 acres a day, compared with 10 acres by hand.
Agricultural drones have surged in popularity in recent years and become the "new favorite" for farmers, who use them principally for crop protection. Annual sales of agricultural drones have grown from fewer than 1,000 in 2017 to 15,300 in 2020, an increase of 17 times in four years, according to data from the China Agricultural Machinery Circulation Association. The market size for the equipment has correspondingly expanded from 55 million yuan in 2017 to 775 million yuan in 2020.
"From the current sales situation, the agricultural drone market sales will continue to grow well this year," Zhang Huaguang, director of the information consulting department of the China Agricultural Machinery Circulation Association, told the Economic Daily.
Zhang attributed the booming agricultural UAV market to a few factors, the first of which is policy support. In December 2017, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology issued the guidelines for promoting and regulating the use of the drones. In 2018, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Finance jointly issued a noticed laying out a pilot program to subsidize the purchase of new agricultural machinery products from 2018 to 2020. And in 2019, various provinces and cities that took part in the subsidy pilot program increased the number of drone manufacturers that qualified for the incentives.
Most of the users who buy agricultural drones are service organizations that organize professional teams to provide users with plant protection services. Besides spraying pesticides, drones are increasingly being used for planting and fertilizing.
Compared with traditional plant protection machinery, agricultural drones are not restricted by terrain conditions and can enter paddy fields, hills, mountains and other places where other machinery cannot easily access to carry out their operations. Drones also reduce the use of pesticide and water consumption by being more precise in delivery and also safeguards human health as the spraying is no longer done by hand.
The UAV also helps in the digitization of agriculture by recording important information such as the amount of pesticide and fertilizer use, geographic location and operational time, allowing agronomists to have better information to optimize planting processes and increase yield and productivity.
This is in line with China’s latest five-year economic master plan covering the years 2021 to 2025. In the plan, promoting the digital transformation of the farming industry and speeding up the development of smart agriculture are among the developmental priorities.