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Agriculture Drones Are Having Their Moment—DJI’s Agras Displayed at the Guggenheim, XAG Projects Growth as China Pushes to Consolidate Farmland

BY Zacc Dukowitz
11 March 2020

DJI’s Agras T16 agricultural drone is currently being featured at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City as part of an art exhibit called Countryside, The Future.

The exhibit was created to explore the “digital impact on the physical world,” and specifically the impact of new technologies on rural areas.

Countryside, The Future is an exhibition addressing urgent environmental, political, and socioeconomic issues . . . [it] will explore radical changes in the rural, remote, and wild territories collectively identified here as “countryside,” or the 98% of the Earth’s surface not occupied by cities.

The Guggenheim website

The Agras is a drone created just for agricultural drone applications, with a unique spraying feature that allows it to apply fertilizers and pesticides to crops.

Recently DJI retrofitted the Agras to spray disinfectant instead of agriculture-related materials to help fight the spread of the coronavirus. The Agras has reportedly been used to spray disinfectant over 3 million square meters in Shenzhen, where DJI is based.

And when you look at the Agras, it’s easy to see why it would be chosen for an exhibit showcasing futuristic technology made for rural areas.

Photo credit: DJI

Want to learn more about Countryside, The Future? Watch this video from the Guggenheim to learn about the exhibit:

See Countryside, The Future at the Guggenheim

Want to go? The exhibit will be open from now through August 14, 2020. Learn more about Countryside, The Future on the Guggenheim’s website.

XAG’s Agriculture Drones—Preparing for a New Future in China

At the moment, smaller farmers make up much of the rural landscape in China. But this is something the Chinese government is actively working to change by encouraging these small operators to consolidate into larger collective farms.

XAG, the largest agricultural drone maker in China, aims to support this transition by using their ag drones to help farmers with spraying pesticides, fertilizing, and seeding on these new large farms, thereby reducing the amount of manual labor required for each individual farmer.

More farmers are transforming their small plot of land into large farms. That makes drones more popular.

– Justin Gong, Co-Founder of XAG

Given the anticipated increase in demand for drones to help support these new large farms, XAG has projected that they will double sales of their ag drones in 2020. (However, it’s worth noting that these projections were made before the coronavirus hit.)

In addition to its ag drones, XAG has announced plans to launch a self-driving vehicle to support agricultural operations.

XAG’s Ag Drones Help Fight Coronavirus

Like DJI, XAG has jumped into the coronavirus fight, retrofitting their ag drones to spray disinfectant instead of pesticides or herbicides.

XAG’s disinfectant operations are targeting rural villages, where medical resources are harder to come by.

About a month ago, a fleet of XAG’s drones disinfected a community of over 300,000 square meters in China’s Shandong province. The company is actively undertaking similar missions with a fund they’ve established of 5 Million-yuan ($715,000) to help fight the coronavirus by drone.

How Agriculture Drones Support Farming

Wondering what farmers actually do with drones? Here are some of the top uses for agriculture drones:

Spraying Crops

Ag drones can be equipped to spray fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. They can spray an entire crop or farm, or just spot spray a specific area of land.

Spraying from the air by drone is much quicker and cheaper than walking the entire acreage of a farm to spray, or using a plane to spray.

XAG Crop Spraying Drone
Photo credit: XAG

Monitoring Crop Health and Distribution

Using drones, farmers can obtain real-time visual data about the health of crops, which helps to maximize land and resource usage and better determine crop planting locations.

Near infrared (NIR) drone sensors let farmers determine crop health based on light absorption, giving them insights into the overall health of the farm. For example, vineyard owners are currently using NIR to monitor the health of their grapevines (see the image below).

Here are some of the crop-related data farmers monitor using drones:

  • Crop life cycles over time
  • Real-time crop and plant health
  • Overall distribution of land-based on crop type

Veritas Vineyard Crop Survey

Planting Seeds

This application is still fairly new but presents a powerful tool for the future of agriculture, as well as for forestry and other scenarios that benefit from planting a large number of seeds in a short period of time.

DroneSeed has created a UAS designed to help with reforestation and replanting projects. These drones can each deliver up to 57 pounds of seeds, herbicides, fertilizer, and water, significantly reducing planting times and the cost of labor for planting seeds.

Photo credit: DroneSeed

Monitoring and Managing Irrigation

Drones can help spot irrigation issues on large pieces of farmland that might otherwise go unnoticed, quickly identifying areas with too little or too much water.

Using this information, farmers can avoid crop damage due to water pooling, maximize drainage, and take advantage of natural land runoff.


Monitoring and Managing Livestock

Drones equipped with thermal cameras can help a farmer keep tabs on livestock much more easily than walking a field and counting with the naked eye.

A quick flight can help a farmer determine whether all livestock are where they should be, as well as help find out if there are injuries among the animals, missing livestock, animals giving birth, or other scenarios that might require intervention.

Excited about how drones are changing agriculture? Share your thoughts in this thread on the UAV Coach community forum.

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