The month of May saw South Africa’s first licensed crop-spraying drone fly in KwaZulu-Natal, an event with major implications for using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in this and other agricultural applications.
“The use of drones is becoming increasingly widespread, especially in the agricultural sector. It is a growing trend, although in its infancy in South Africa, for farmers to integrate drone use to assist with crop management, production and the effects of climate change. Farmers are constantly looking at new ways to gather data, automate outdated processes and maximise efficiency in their cultivation methods,” said James Godden, who heads the aviation division at insurer Santam.
He maintains agriculture is the cornerstone of any economy. In tough economic times with more extreme weather events and stiff foreign competition, South African farmers need to leverage all opportunities to maximise area use. “That is where advanced technologies like drones make the difference.”
Godden names three areas where UAVs can – and will – assist the South African agricultural entrepreneur. They are soil and field analysis; crop monitoring and irrigation and crop-spraying.
On ground analysis he sees precise 3D maps produced by properly equipped UAVs providing timely soil analysis. The technique assists in in-depth analyses on produce and establishes where high fertile areas are. This makes for better crop management and can also provide data for irrigation and nitrogen level management post planting.
Probably the most common use of drones currently in agriculture is for crop monitoring with stills and video showing how various crops fare in different areas with differing soil content and composition.
Crop-spraying using UAVs enables the farmer to reach every- and anywhere spraying is necessary. Distance measuring equipment allows a drone to adjust to a specific altitude. This computes to the amount of insecticide or fertiliser needed to provide effective cover without the risk of it being sprayed outside the intended area.
“A few years age there weren’t any drones to insure and now there are a few hundred in the commercial, agricultural and financial sectors. As the technology advances and drones become more complete the need for insurance increases,” Godden said.
Cover is available for physical loss or damage to a UAV, including the airframe, payload and launch platform/station. Users can also sign up for cover of physical loss or damage to the UAV as a result of deliberate or malicious damage or sabotage and third party liability cover is also available.