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Drone Pilot Development to Empower Smart Farmers

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Khon Kaen University’s Faculty of Engineering, led by the Department of Agricultural Engineering, embarked on the Agricultural Drone Pilot Occupation Development Project focuses on studying and innovating agricultural practices, specifically utilising drones for plant protection, assessing plant conditions, and enhancing productivity. It has continued since 2016, aiming to empower communities and transform farmers into Smart Farmers.

For the first time, this project was started when the researchers conducted surveys among farmers in Chaiyaphum, revealing their struggle with labour shortages. Additionally, the lack of skilled pilots hindered the attempts to introduce agricultural drone technology as a solution. While farmers with large plantations owned drones, approximately 70% remained unused.

Recognising the significance of this issue, the Faculty of Engineering embarked on the project in collaboration with the Department of Agricultural Engineering, Department of Computer Engineering, Department of Agricultural Economics, Department of Agronomy, and Department of Sociology.

According to Assoc Prof Khwantree, the Agricultural Drone Pilot Occupation Development Project conducted a comprehensive survey of the local context, which served as the basis for the training programme. The training covered essential aspects such as drone control, maintenance, and efficient battery management to maximise the utility of drones.

It also included discussions on the benefits and limitations of different drone versions and sizes, the criteria for selecting drones for specific purposes, choosing suitable spraying nozzles, and determining appropriate droplet sizes, cross-section widths, speeds, and flight heights for different situations. The training addressed problem-solving techniques for challenging conditions, such as strong winds.

The training programme also covered the application of spray agents to aid in the decomposition of sugar cane leaves, rice stubbles, and crop residues, promoting a reduction in burning while providing soil fertilisation. Moreover, participants learned about the precise selection of weed control chemicals, including examples of chemical sets and proper mixing methods to ensure effective activation when used with drones. The training also emphasised the importance of selecting chemicals suitable for specific soil types and moisture conditions.

During the training, participants had the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in drone control. Those already skilled in drone piloting sought experts’ guidance to address various issues. A dedicated session allowed the trainer and trainees to share their knowledge and experiences, covering topics such as chemical preparation techniques, drone flying techniques, nozzle replacement, drone maintenance and cleaning.

In addition to providing drone piloting training, the project facilitated the establishment of a collaborative network involving financial institutions, government agencies, and private sector stakeholders in the region. This collaboration resulted in the developing of three distinct business models for hiring spraying drones.

The 70 trainees were introduced to these models, which included options such as individual investment, SME hiring, investment in drones, vehicles, and equipment, profit-sharing arrangements with pilots, as well as drone purchases by large-scale farmers who subsequently rented them to qualified pilots for specific tasks.

“The role of an agricultural drone pilot in the Isan region is a relatively new occupation with significant market opportunities. The survey findings indicated that this occupation has the potential to generate incomes ranging from 20,000 to 50,000 baht. In the future, it has the potential to become a sustainable source of income for farmers within the community,” explained Khwantree.

In addition, to foster the dissemination and sustainability of technological knowledge, the Faculty of Engineering at Khon Kaen University has introduced an online platform called “Drone Learning Space.” This virtual space, created by the Department of Computer Engineering and the Department of Agricultural Engineering, serves as a hub for exchanging experiences, seeking information, and learning agricultural drone techniques. Accessible at any time and from anywhere, this platform allows aspiring individuals to receive professional training and become skilled agricultural drone pilots.


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