Mechanization and Technology

Adoption of Agricultural Drones in India

Guest Author: Pradeep Palelli, Founder & CEO, Thanos Technologies

17 June 2024, New Delhi: India’s economy heavily depends on agriculture, which would produce about 18% of the country’s Gross Value Added (GVA) in the fiscal year 2024. The industry has shown incredible resilience in the face of challenges from the global health crisis and changing climatic patterns, driving economic recovery and advancement.

Pradeep Palelli, Founder & CEO, Thanos Technologies

Drones are expected to contribute to the country’s GDP growth by 1-1.5 percent and provide over 500,000 job opportunities in the near future. The government’s unwavering commitment to drone production, demonstrated by programs such as the Production-linked Incentive plan, aims to position India as a prominent global hub for drones by 2030.

Drone technology holds the promise of not just revolutionizing Indian agriculture, but also promoting sustainable practices. By enhancing resource usage efficiency, reducing costs, and mitigating negative environmental impacts through real-time information on soil, crops, and water, drones can make farming a more viable and sustainable endeavour. Moreover, drones can play a crucial role in early pest and disease detection, thereby reducing the reliance on chemical pesticides in agriculture, a reassurance for policymakers and government officials about the environmental benefits of drone adoption.

At present, the use of drones in Indian agriculture is still in its early stages, with around 3000 drones in use. However, this number is projected to reach 7000 by FY25, indicating a significant increase in adoption. This surge in drone usage is expected to significantly enhance agricultural yields through better utilization of water, soil nutrients, and crop protection formulas. The role of government regulations in promoting technology adoption in agriculture cannot be overstated, and it is this support that will be a key driver of UAV demand in the coming years, a testament to the value of government officials’ efforts.

The drone manufacturing industry in India is set for rapid growth, with a projected increase from ₹ 60 crore in 2020-21 to ₹ 900 crore in 2024-25. In the agricultural sector, drone use is expected to grow at a CAGR of 38.5%, reaching US$ 121.43 million by 2030. Drones have a wide range of applications in precision agriculture, including crop scouting, input application, and sowing. Some of the most promising applications include:

  • Soil and Field Analysis: Drones use electromagnetic spectrum cameras to gather data on insect damage, pest-related changes, and vegetation health.
  • Seed Planting: Drones with specialised containers and controlled dispersal mechanisms efficiently sow seeds, reducing planting time.
  • Crop Spraying: Drones apply pesticides and herbicides with advanced technology, ensuring precise spraying across various terrains. This precision not only improves the effectiveness of pesticide application but also reduces the amount of chemicals used, thereby minimizing the environmental impact. Drones can also be programmed to avoid spraying near water bodies, further enhancing their environmental friendliness.
  • Crop Monitoring: Drones quickly capture large farm areas, aiding in health assessment and data-driven decisions on fertilisation, pest control, and irrigation.
  • Livestock Monitoring: Equipped with RFID tags, drones provide detailed monitoring of livestock, reducing the need for specialised personnel.

The Indian government has been a staunch supporter of the agricultural sector, providing substantial financial backing for agricultural mechanisation and actively promoting the use of drones. For instance, a total of ₹ 6,405.55 crore was allocated for agricultural mechanisation from 2014-15 to December 2023, with a portion of ₹ 141.41 crore specifically earmarked for Kisan drone promotion, as per Press Information Bureau. The government has also launched the ‘Drone Didi’ program, distributing 15,000 drones to women’s self-help groups along with significant financial support. These initiatives and financial support from the government should instil confidence in agricultural technology companies about the future of drone technology in India.

Furthermore, the IFFCO cooperative, in collaboration with the government, intends to acquire 2,500 drones for applying nano soil nutrients and provide training to 5,000 rural entrepreneurs in this endeavor. This initiative not only promotes the use of drone technology but also fosters rural entrepreneurship and economic development. The Ministry of Agriculture has also established guidelines for pesticide application using drones across ten different crops, such as rice, wheat, and cotton.

As part of the Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanisation Scheme, different agricultural institutes and Farmer Producer Organizations receive financial aid for acquiring drones and conducting demonstrations. This assistance provides coverage up to ₹ 10 lakh, which aids in the integration of drone technology into agricultural practices.

India’s agricultural sector is set for remarkable growth, driven by the adoption of drone technology. With government support and strategic initiatives, the agriculture drone market is poised to expand significantly. These drones offer solutions for precision farming, crop monitoring, and livestock management, transforming agricultural production and promoting sustainable practices. As India harnesses the potential of drones, it paves the way for enhanced productivity, efficiency, and resilience in agriculture, ensuring a promising future for the nation’s economy and its farmers.

Also Read: Improved Seed Treatment for More Sustainable Vegetable Production

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