05 February 2022, New Delhi: In the wake of immense potential of the Application of unmanned Aerial Vehicle also known as “Drone”, the ICAR-Central Potato Research Institute, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh has initiated the work for the “Development of Drone-based Potato Crop Management Technologies” at its Regional Stations of Modipuram and Jalandhar since 2020. The initiative was undertaken in collaboration with the Bayer Crop Science Ltd. India and General Aeronautics Pvt. Ltd. having defined objective of developing the précised Crop Management Technologies for the Potato Crop.
Project activity was started in first year after getting necessary permissions from the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), and local administration. The trials at two locations for two years on agro-chemicals (fungicides, insecticides and weedicides) spray using the Drone has clearly demonstrated advantage of increased precision and efficiency with lower water requirement, reduced environmental hazards and no phytotoxicity in Potato Crop.
To achieve the targeted productivity in the Potato Crop in a short span of 90 to 110 days, the frequent application of pesticides is required as the crop is susceptible for large numbers of insect-pests and diseases.
In the first step, the recommended doses of pesticides were evaluated with ultra-low volume of water in Drone Spray for phytotoxicity, uniformity of spray and possible drift. A multi-rotor UAV (General Aeronautics, India) with six propellers was used to spray pesticides and weedicides. The on-board UAV had a battery pack (27 Ah), RF (Radio Frequency)-based Transceiver, Microcontroller, GPS and Safety Sensors for communication and flight parameters. Its ultra-low volume spraying system consisted of a liquid chemical storage tank of 20 Litres capacity and four centrifugal atomizing nozzles had an overall swath of 4 meter. Ground Control Software was used for navigation and control of operational parameters.
The UAV Flight was configured to maintain a speed of 12.6 Km/Hr with a flow rate of 60 Ltr./Hr. at an altitude of 2 M above the ground level. With this speed and swath, the Drone sprayed approximately 1.26 ha area in about 15 Minutes. The Geotags of the field were configured in the UAV using the GPS to navigate the system on a predefined path.
In the first Year, the Drone Application of eight pesticides was done in an area of 1.2 ha and observations on penetration efficiency, pesticide drift, plant coverage and phytotoxicity were recorded using the standard protocols. The uniform and better penetration with fine droplet coverage at all three levels (top, middle & bottom) of potato plants was observed in Drone Spray; whereas, lesser penetration at lower level of plants and bigger droplet size were observed in tractor mounted and battery operated knapsack sprayers. None of the pesticides exhibited any phytotoxicity in Potato Crop. The Spray drift was observed in 5 m buffer zone, but the quantity was negligible. Similarly, 14 pesticides were evaluated separately and or as tank mix in the second crop season and results were encouraging as better chemical penetration and no phytotoxicity was observed. The Drift by Drone was also in safer limits.
The Drone-based Spraying had several advantages, that is, exact estimation of land area saved chemicals, very less water requirement per unit area as only 20 Ltr per ha was sufficient as compared to 500 to 750 Ltr water needed in conventional spraying and spray efficiency as time taken to cover one ha was less than 15 Minutes. The initial findings of current studies indicated that drone-based application of pesticides is safe and can be used on large scale for effective management of potato pests and diseases. The results can easily be converted into recommendations for the Potato Crop following the SOPs developed by the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India as released on 21st December, 2021.
The Institute also initiated the Awareness Programmes on Drone Technology. The use of the Drone Technology in Indian Agriculture particularly, in the Potato Crop is really a great leap towards smart farming of the future.