Use of Drones in Agriculture – UPSC GS3

Context: The Prime Minister flagged off 100 “kisan drones” in different parts of the country for spraying pesticides and other farm materials.
Significance of Drone Technology in Agriculture Sector:
  • Agriculture drones efficiently study external factors like weather, soil conditions, and temperature and empowers the farmer to make mindful choices accordingly.
  • The gained data helps regulate crop health, crop treatment, crop scouting, irrigation, and carry out field soil analysis and crop damage assessments.
  • The drone survey helps boost crop yields and minimize time and expenses.
Applications of Drone in Agriculture:
  • Locusts Attacks: The drones can be used for spraying of insecticides in the areas affected by locusts. Recently, the Maharashtra government decided to use drones to spray insecticides on swarms of locusts.
  • Mapping/Surveying: The process of using a drone to map or survey crops is a relatively efficient way to gather exact information in a precise manner.
  • Crop Dusting/Spraying: Use of drones in spraying and dusting crops helps reduce costs and potential pesticide exposure to workers who would have needed to spray those crops manually.
  • Irrigation Monitoring: Drone survey helps improve water efficiency and disclose potential pooling/leaks in irrigation by providing Irrigation monitoring yields.
  • Crop Health Monitoring and Surveillance: Agriculture drones can see which plants reflect different amounts of green light and Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) light. This data helps produce multispectral images to track crop health.
  • Field Soil Analysis: The drone survey allows seizing soil data, field soil analysis, irrigation, and nitrogen-level management which permits farmers to analyse their soil conditions thoroughly.
Challenges:
  • Knowledge and Skill: An average farmer cannot analyse drone functioning as it requires specialized skills and knowledge to translate it to any useful information.
  • Flight Time and Range: Due to relatively higher payloads, the flight duration of drones used in agriculture is short which results in limited coverage of land.
  • High Cost: Mostly, agricultural drones are costlier as it includes the cost of imaging sensors, software, hardware and tools.
  • National Laws: Multiple laws governing drone use in India creates ambiguity besides affecting the production and use of drones.
    • The requirement of obtaining an unmanned aircraft operator’s permit (UAOP) for piloting drones, Permission for each flight through Online Digital Sky platform for No Permission No Take off (NPNT) compliance limits use of drones in agriculture.
  • Connectivity: Farmers intending to use drones have to invest in connectivity or buy a drone with local data storing capability in a format that can be transferred and processed later.
  • Weather Dependent: Drones are weather dependent. Under windy or rainy conditions, flying drones is not easy, unlike traditional aircrafts.
  • Misuse: There is a chance of misuse to infringe the privacy of people and illegal transfer of information.
Recommendations:
  • Encourage Start-ups to establish local drone manufacturing/assembling units for agriculture use.
  • Develop a comprehensive legal and policy framework in the form of Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR 3.0) to encourage applications of drones in agriculture.
  • Expedite Digital sky platform with its revision for pragmatic and practical implementation for enhanced drone usage.
  • Capacity development for flying drones is required as it is a skill-based operation.
  • Develop an enabling ecosystem with a single-window concept for entrepreneurs.
  • Encourage Research in drone applications to study various operating parameters in agriculture.