Agricultural drone sprayer tested in Ilocos Norte

Some local farmers in Ilocos Norte looked up in the sky with excitement on Thursday, March 14, as they witnessed the initial takeoff of a drone sprayer which could apply fertilizer and insecticides at high speed compared to the traditional method.

A remote-controlled drone being used by the International Rice Research Institute in Laguna. Photo credit: http://blog.worldagroforestry.org/

Roger Barroga, manager of FutureRice farm program and head of the Information Systems Division of the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) based in Nueva Ecija, said in an interview that the agricultural drone sprayer is another milestone in the country’s agriculture sector.

The drone demonstration lasted for more than two minutes in a rice farm in San Guillermo, San Nicolas, Ilocos Norte.

With a capacity of 10 liters per load, the unmanned aerial vehicle or drone operated by a licensed pilot on a clear day or night can spray field crops covering an area of 5,000 square meters, or 0.5 hectare in 10 minutes.

To popularize this technology, PhilRice representatives, along with product manufacturer New Hope Corporation, have been reaching out to farmers’ organizations in Northern Luzon to provide more opportunities in the agriculture sector.

This week, the drone technology has been tested in parts of Nueva Ecija, Apayao, and Ilocos Norte.

Compared to manual spray operation, Barroga explained the use of drone technology in farming can effectively reduce farmers’ cost of production.

Based on the initial result of farm experiment using drones, farmers could extensively cut the volume of pesticides they use.

From the usual 160 liters of pesticide per hectare applied by farmers using traditional knapsacks, the tests showed that using drones, they would only utilize 16 liters of pesticide, Barroga said.

He added it would only take about 16 minutes to 20 minutes for a pesticide-spraying drone to cover a hectare of land compared to a day-long manual spraying duration.

Barroga further said the force created by drones in spraying from above allows the pesticide to be applied even to the unreachable parts of the plants through manual application.

At the moment, drone spraying can be made accessible to farmers through service providers with a P850 rental fee per hectare.

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

“Using autopilot drones can determine if the plant has the right nutrients, if it has enough fertilizer or its growth is stunted. And this could be done over a wide scale,” Barroga said.

He added all these initiatives are aimed at developing “precision farming” or “precision agriculture” in the country.

Precision agriculture is grounded on the use of historical data and other valuable metrics to make farmers’ crop management efficient and optimized. This type of farming is promoted as a means to adapt to the ill effects of climate change.

Anthony Tan, founder of New Hope Corporation, a Davao-based private drone company, said drone sprayers also work to minimize financial risks as some drone units provide a post-spray report, which documents the flight path and the total volume sprayed.

Tan added a drone sprayer in general can reduce pesticide volume up to 30 to 40 percent, minimize pilferage of chemicals, and save water up to 90 percent.

For farmer Emerson Tabios of San Guillermo village, drone technology may work best for huge plantation owners, but it may not be applicable for an ordinary farmer like him with just a small parcel of land.

“We are thankful for these agricultural innovations but I hope these will become more affordable to us,” Tabios said.

While watching the drone spraying evenly to the ground, Crisner Lagazo, a young farmer from Sulbec village, said he was excited to try the technology himself. Lagazo, however, noted he has yet to find a sponsor. — Leilanie Adriano (PNA)

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