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Philippines looks to drones to boost farming

Credit: Business Mirror

Technology is fast advancing and has produced machinery that could change what was once a laborious and tedious farming process into an efficient and automated one.

The Philippines has seen the entry of farm machinery that has changed various manual operations to automated ones such as carabaos becoming tractors.

As reported, the Department of Agriculture (DA) is evaluating the potential of drones in changing how seeds are planted, how fertilisers and pesticides are applied, and how crops are monitored.

Department of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol shared that drones are the future of agriculture and that digitisation is the way forward.

The Department initially tried to use drones in 2015 when they collaborated with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, for the use of the aerial mapping capacity of drones in pre-disaster and post-disaster assessments.

Types of Drones

At present, the Department’s central office has a twin-engine fixed wing, a single-engine fixed wing and a quadcopter UAV unit.

A single-engine fixed wing could cover 200 hectares within 60 minutes, while a twin-engine fixed wing could cover 800 to 1,000 hectares in 90 minutes. A quadcopter could cover 50 hectares in 30 minutes.

Two of the Department’s regional offices have a twin-engine fixed wing, while 10 regional offices have single-engine fixed wing. All regional offices, meanwhile, have a quadcopter.

Moreover, part of expanding the drone fleet would be the construction of a technology centre or a hub that would house their UAVs and other related technologies.

Benefits of Drones

In April 2018, the Secretary indicated that the Department will explore the possibilities and opportunities that drone technology could provide to Filipino farmers.

They see drones as a technology that would further mechanise the farm sector and cut the cost of production.

Various agencies such as the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are now incorporating the use of drones in their research.

PhilRice, which is an attached agency of the Department, has found ways to apply drones in crop management, application farm inputs, seed planting, and even in fish feeding.

All these are aimed at developing “precision farming” or “precision agriculture” in the country.

Drones, through available software, allow farmers to monitor different aspects of rice farming like the growth rate, nutrient content and pest incidence.

Furthermore, drones could provide farmers with real-time information on the status of their crops like the height of the plants and the number of tillers.

This information could help them make immediate necessary adjustments to improve their produce.

Some drones, such as drone sprayers, are also equipped with artificial intelligence (AI).

If these drones stop in the middle of their flight path because they ran out of payload pesticide, they will return to the spot where they stopped after going back to their pilot for a refill.

One of the biggest benefits of drone technology to the farming sector would be the reduction in health and environmental risks of some practices, such as pesticide spraying.

Another benefit is the ability to provide a more even distribution of seeds across farm lands. It also uses way lesser labour time.

Aside from farmers, drone technology advocates also want the ubiquity of UAV use to attract the younger generation back to agriculture.

Technology is the magnet that pulls them back.

Drone Policy

In the Philippines, there is no clear-cut policy yet on the use of agricultural drones.

The only existing policies refer to flight height limitations and some restrictions in flying drones in relation to security, such as prohibition of flight near airports.

It is vital that farmers adopt modern technologies, including drones, to mitigate the ill effects of climate change to the agriculture sector.

This is the future. Carbon footprints should be reduced and that can be done by having a precise application of fertiliser and other farm inputs.

Digitalisation, drones, satellite monitoring and GPS-guided precision farming are just some of the new words in the agricultural vocabulary today.

OpenGov Asia earlier reported on how the Philippine Rice Research Institute pushes for drone tech in farming.

The report covers the Memorandum of Agreement signed by the Agency with a Davao-based drone firm in order to advance research in the rice sector.

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