Ready for takeoff: How drones bring more safety to farming
June 2, 2022
The answer to many challenges of farmers in Latin America is smaller and nimbler than you may think: Drones can support farmers and large fruit producers to protect their crops, improve their productivity, and achieve greater profitability. In Colombia and Ecuador, BASF is helping to establish networks of partners, including the farmers. Through these collaborations, profitability and safety are improved throughout the agro ecosystem.
In the valley of the Magdalena River in the middle of the Andean region, it’s often cloudy and today only stray beams of sunshine break through as Nicolás Pérez drives his pickup to his rice field. Located west of Bogota, Colombia, the city of Venadillo is fertile agricultural grounds. Today, Nicolás is up against weeds and pests. If left untreated, these will reduce his rice yield and endanger his earnings. The 31-year-old will apply agrochemicals, just like many farmers do to protect their crops. But instead of shouldering a heavy backpack sprayer and navigating muddy paddy fields in hot and humid environments for hours – like his father did and so many Colombian farmers are still doing today – Nicolás pushes the start button of his drone and prepares its takeoff.
Digitalization, and particularly drone technology, has the power to transform agriculture. This innovative application technology can change one of the most physically demanding jobs in farming. Colombian farmers are aging and working in agriculture seems to be turning into a less attractive job option for young people. Access to state-of-the-art innovation and digital technologies can not only contribute to make a better living, but also helps making farming becoming more attractive for younger generations.
Drone pioneers bring digitalization to the farm
Nicolás took up farming out of family tradition and has never regretted it. For more than 10 years now, he has worked as the crop production manager at their mid-size agricultural business that covers 80 hectares of mainly rice but also corn and cotton fields. His passion is introducing new technologies to tackle the biggest job on earth: balancing the need for increased productivity, environmental protection and value to society. “We pioneered the use of drones in rice farming in Colombia. For four years we have been using our own drone to apply agrochemicals to the fields. We are very satisfied with the water savings, reduced cost and time and, finally, improvements for health and safety,” Nicolás explains.
Drones are a real game changer for traditional backpack sprayer applications
The main benefits of drones in agriculture are optimization of the use of crop protection products, reduced risk to workers, reduced environmental impact and high efficiency in application and collection of field information. “All this translates into high competitiveness,” says Camilo Bravo, co-owner of Agronik Colombia, a drone service company.
Drone technology is a real game changer for the traditional backpack application. Smallholder farmers who cannot afford an application by airplane and have no access to tractors, rely on the application with backpack sprayers. “After successful drone application trials with initial customers, we offered our service to more farmers. Feedback has been great and now they are asking for all their applications to be done with drones,” Camilo adds.
Nicolás Perez and the Bravos are part of the ‘Drones in Agriculture’ program by BASF Agricultural Solutions, in a first step aiming to give 8,000 farmers in Latin America access to drone technology within five years. This engagement is one example of how the company is continuously improving the safe application of its crop protection products with smart stewardship and bringing digital solutions to more than 400 million hectares of farmland – both goals of BASF Agricultural Solutions’ ambitious Sustainability Commitments.
Hernan Camilo González, project coordinator for the region Latin America North (LAN) for BASF’s Agricultural Solutions division, explains: “We focus on bringing prosperity to rural areas. It’s about how we can help small and mid-scale farmers to become entrepreneurs, closing the innovation or technology gap so they can become more efficient. All this is feasible through drones. With this project and the network of partners that we have set up, we’re going to spearhead the switch from backpack application to drones.”
Farmers benefit from drones making crop protection application faster, safer, and more precise
Drones are up to 50 times faster at applying crop protection chemicals than the typical backpack sprayer, reducing not only time but also cost spent on treatments. This enables farmers to complete work in a certain timeframe with the ideal climate and environmental conditions, allowing for an even efficacy of crop protection products in the field. “In our experience, drone application needs up to 90 percent less water than backpack sprayers, helping farmers to produce not only more but better, conserve vital resources, particularly in areas of water scarcity,” says Camilo Bravo.
Furthermore, with greater accuracy thanks to satellite precision, operators benefit from lower exposure and thus risk, while higher precision and control allows for better productivity and crop care. “This technology is increasingly valuable because it can be used on many different crops, not just rice,” Hernan highlights. “Drone application will help to achieve and maintain buffer zones – so-called ‘no spray’ area alongside a watercourse, ditch, or field boundary even better. Therefore, a more targeted, precise application is needed that the conventional method by airplane lacks. Drones play a fundamental role in that.”
The biggest job on Earth is getting bigger
Even though drones can make farming easier and safer, farming is still tough and more complex than one might know. To support farmers, BASF is advancing programs like the ‘Drones in Agriculture’, in addition to innovations to crop protection products, seeds, traits and other digital technologies. The company is bringing these key innovations together in ways that make even greater gains in precision application and in how much farmers can produce and earn. As a top-tier agricultural solutions company, BASF aims to play a leading role in the transformation of agriculture to become even more productive and more sustainable.
Discover more about smart agriculture with drones and the experiences of farmers in South America with the new technology in this video.