China’s pesticide drones ‘a godsend’ for struggling farmers amid labour shortage

Deployment of flying machines saves time and money and cuts back on pesticide use as exodus of young people to cities sparks rural labour shortage

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 3:45pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 June, 2017, 12:53pm

Farmers in northern China have employed drones over their orchards this month to make up for rising labour shortage, and achieving remarkable increases in productivity in the process, the state news agency reported.

About a dozen unmanned aerial vehicles sprayed pesticide on apple trees in Ji county, Shanxi province at the rate of about 10 minutes per orchard, or 15 times the efficiency of manual labour.

Each drone carried a tank of the bug spray in its belly, and flew over paths calculated and operated by remote control.

“I have trudged in the dirt my whole life, and I have never seen anything like this,” Liu Xinzhu, a 60-year-old farmer told Xinhua.

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Liu’s son had found a job in city, and his wife is not healthy enough for labour intensive work. Liu alone could not take care of his one-acre apple orchard.

“The drones are a godsend,” he added.

Liu Xinzhu, a scientist with the Ministry of Agriculture, said the drones’ operating cost were significantly lower than hiring farm labour.
Farm wages have increased over the years as most young people left villages to seek work in the city.

Spraying his one hectare orchard by drones cost more than 1,000 yuan (US$145) less than a farm worker, Liu said. Using the machines also prevented accidental inhaling of toxic pesticide.

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Some government experts believe that the market potential for agricultural drones on the mainland could reach 100 billion yuan per year.

According to DJI, one of the leading drone manufacturers in Shenzhen, next to Hong Kong, about 200 professional drone operators at present offered various services to farmers across the country.

The government hoped the mass use of drones would also reduce the use of pesticides and fertilisers, allowing the development of more environmentally-friendly farming.