AI-driven drones deployed to ‘broadcast’ rice seeds in Central Luzon

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Artificial intelligence-driven drones have been deployed to broadcast (“sabog tanim”) rice seeds in Tarlac, significantly eliminating costly and time-consuming labor in rice planting.

The technology demonstration was completed by Bayer Crop Science (BCS) in Brgy. Sampot in Paniqui town last November 20.

The drone seed spreading service fee has been pegged at P3,000 per hectare. Labor cost for transplanting rice traditionally costs P11,000 to P13,000 per hectare.

Instead of spending a whole day to perform direct seeding in one hectare, drone seeding for the same area can be completed in just 30 minutes.

Based on the conducted trial, the seeding rate is 20 to 25 kilos of hybrid rice seeds per hectare, which is far less than the 40-50 kilos seeding rate in the manual “sabog tanim”, indicating effective seed distribution.

The drone distributes rice seeds aerially from an altitude of 2.5 meters at a speed of one meter per second.

The drone, which is registered with the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), has a weight of 25 kilos and a rice seed loading capacity of 10 kilos. Drone pilots are also registered with CAAP.

For now, the introduction of the drone seeding service will be focused in Central Luzon, the country’s rice granary.

“We are preparing farmers for a complete package of smart technology. We can now use the drones to support agriculture modernization. Other countries in Southeast Asia have started to use drones in farming including Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam. It’s also already used extensively in China,” said Aaron Cano, BCS business activation manager, during the technology demonstration.

“This is the future of farming. We are opening an opportunity for the youth to get interested in farming,” Cano said.

BCS said it has started setting up a “one-stop-shop” for farmers to bring a complete service of hardware, apps, and farm inputs.

“We’re developing that model right now — a complete service that goes beyond distribution of farm inputs. Down the road, we’ll also look at other hardware and applications that collect relevant data on climate, weather, and plant health to be provided regularly to farmers,” said Cano.

New Hope Corp. (NHC), which distributes the drones in the Philippines, has already been licensed by the Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority (FPA) to use drones for spraying application.

However, approvals for specific crop protection products that can be applied using drones have yet to be realized. BCS said it is working to ensure regulatory compliance with FPA guidelines for priority products and crops.

A sprayer is attached to the drone that enables farmers to spray pesticides or other granulated materials on their plants.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) in Region 3 has adopted the drone technology program.

“We are scheduled to have a technology demonstration in mid-December in Candaba, Pampanga. We are also providing other venues for demonstration,” said Shiela Hipolito DA Region 3 rice program manager.

Cano added that BCS is also introducing a Web-based app called Agrolink, where rice seeds users can tap. Through this integrated Smart Farming program, farmers are given points from purchases that they can accumulate to get discounts and may include drone services.

“All the data we’re going to get will be part of an integrated agriculture — a complete, integrated solution for smallholder farmers is what we’re aiming for to boost their yields and incomes,” said Cano.

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