Farm­land re­form buzzing in from the sky

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS -

hor­ri­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of see­ing his fa­ther and neigh­bors poi­soned while spray­ing pes­ti­cide with equip­ment mounted on their backs.

Li says only women and the el­derly are now left in vil­lages on the main­land tend­ing to their farms and, for them, spray­ing pes­ti­cide is an ar­du­ous and dan­ger­ous job.

His painful child­hood mem­o­ries re­turned to haunt him in 2012 as he got ac­quainted with the farm drones in­dus­try, forc­ing him to quit his well-paid job in Shen­zhen and splash his life sav­ings on de­vel­op­ing agri­cul­tural UAVs.

In late 2014, the 40-year-old en­tre­pre­neur set up Shen­zhen Eagle Brother with four part­ners.

Like many star­tups, their first prod­uct — a sin­gle ro­tor UAV ca­pa­ble of car­ry­ing only 10 kilo­grams of pes­ti­cide and fly­ing for seven min­utes — was frowned upon and shunned by clients. But, this did not de­ter Li and his team.

A year later, they launched a new type TY-787 with a 17-kilo­gram bear­ing ca­pac­ity and a flight en­durance of up to 25 min­utes.

Ac­cord­ing to Li, the new de­vice can spray pes­ti­cides over 400 to 500 mu (about 0.0607 hectares) of land in one day, while man­ual work­ers can only cover 8 to 15 mu. The UAV can also save 30 to 40 per­cent pes­ti­cide if the chem­i­cal used is specif­i­cally for avi­a­tion spray­ing, as well as 90 per­cent wa­ter.

Last year, the com­pany came up with an in­tel­li­gent UAV, which can fly to a des­ig­nated spot to add pes­ti­cide by it­self, and stop spray­ing au­to­mat­i­cally when not needed, thus avoid­ing rep­e­ti­tion or miss­ing out on spray­ing work.

Li says they can also work in any com­pli­cated en­vi­ron­ment or land­form and even at night, thanks to its au­ton­o­mous ob­sta­cle-avoid­ing con­trol sys­tem.

More im­por­tantly, this sin­gle ro­tor un­manned he­li­copter can de­ploy a multi-spec­tral cam­era to col­lect data and trans­mit them to the cloud — a step closer to pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture anal­y­sis.

Li be­lieves pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture will be the fu­ture of farm drones. “It can tell us which chem­i­cal el­e­ment the crops lack and the ex­act area, so we can de­cide what to do pre­cisely and ac­cord­ingly.”

Drones, how­ever, re­main out of reach for many farm­ers as they’re ex­pen­sive. The TY-787, for in­stance, is tagged at 168,000 yuan ($24,463), but the startup plans to bring it down to around 130,000 yuan this year. Along with gov­ern­ment sub­sidy for farm­ers, Li says the de­vice will soon be more af­ford­able.

So far, drone buy­ers have been ge tting sub­sidy of be­tween 30 and 50 per­cent from the au­thor­i­ties in some prov­inces, in­clud­ing He­nan, Shan­dong and Jiangsu. Li Weiguo, who heads the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture’s farm mech­a­niza­tion depart­ment, said ear­lier this month aid will be ex­panded to ar­eas where plant pro­tec­tion drones are used.

“Farm­ers can also buy just the ser­vices,” said Li, adding that some young peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas have be­come pro­fes­sional farm drone op­er­a­tors, charg­ing farm­ers just 10 yuan for each mu cov­ered.

With the rapid de­vel­op­ment of the drone in­dus­try in re­cent years, com­pe­ti­tion has heated up as more com­pa­nies en­ter the fray.

In Novem­ber 2015, Shen­zhen-based DJI In­no­va­tion Tech­nol­ogy Co — the coun­try’s largest com­mer­cial drone man­u­fac­turer — upped the stakes by launch­ing a mul­ti­ro­tor agri­cul­tural drone and had re­port­edly sold 2,500 of them coun­try­wide within a year.

Shen­zhen Eagle Brother posted 30 mil­lion yuan in rev­enue last year — a five-fold in­crease over that of the pre­vi­ous year. Li says they have yet to make a profit, but is con­vinced that the “cake” is big enough for all man­u­fac­tur­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data, the main­land had only 4,890 farm drones as of June last year, while to­tal agri­cul­tural land cov­ered 2 bil­lion mu. Even if all the drones are de­ployed, they can cover only about 0.075 per­cent of the to­tal area.

Be­sides the do­mes­tic marke t, Li says the y had sold hun­dreds of farm drones to South­east Asian coun­tries last year, in­clud­ing Laos and South Korea, and is eye­ing mar­kets in the United States, Aus­tralia and coun­tries in the Caribbean.

“My drones will help them grow cof­fee beans,” Li said in jest.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.