In a first, drones replace tractors to sow paddy seeds in Kerala

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Alappuzha: For the first time in Kerala, drones were used for sowing seeds in a paddy field at Kuttanad here on Monday. The Krishi Vigyan Kendra (KVK) under the Kerala Agricultural University at Kumarakom achieved this milestone in the agricultural sector during a trial run held at Chakkinkari paddy field in Champakulam of Kuttanad here.

“This marks a major step forward in the agricultural sector of the state,” says Dr Jayalakshmi G, Head Scientist at KVK Kumarakom. “The kind of revolutionary change one saw with the introduction of tractors can be expected with the use of drones in seed broadcasting.”

The idea of using drones in agriculture is not a new one. The KVK acquired a drone using funds from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research in 2022. The Centre also has successfully used it for spraying medicines over the crops last year, resulting in a notable increase in the yield. 

“Then we decided to modify the drone and use it for broadcasting the seeds. This was done for many reasons, but mainly to overcome the unavailability of skilled labour in the sector, resulting in lower production and losses for the farmer,” said Dr Jayalakshmi. 

Officials witness the trial run of drone seeder. Photo: Special Arrangement

Kuttanad was selected for the trial run due to the unique challenges faced by the farmers in the region. 
“The soil here is acidic. It also faces intrusion of saline water. When the farmers step through the soil to physically sow the seeds, it results in the soil losing its quality. All of this can be avoided by using a drone. It also saves time and labour costs. In the trial, we found that the seeds were more evenly distributed by the drone, which would result in better yield,” Dr Jayalakshmi said. 

While it takes an average labourer almost a full day to broadcast the seeds over a one-acre land, for a drone it takes only 20 minutes. However, the biggest impact would be the change that drones bring to the nature of farming as a source of employment. 

Manuel Alex is an Assistant Professor at KVK and the pilot who flew the drone during the broadcasting process. 

“Not everyone can fly a drone. One has to undergo training and obtain a license for it from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation,” says Manuel. “So, in future, it won’t be labourers tilling the land, but it may be pilots flying drones who would be broadcasting seeds over the farmland.”

According to Manuel, the going rate of rent for using drones is around Rs 700 to Rs 800 per acre. If one acquires proper training and speed, a person can easily cover 30 acres a day. The drone used by KVK flies at a height of 5 meters and has a speed of 5 metres per second, which can be made to vary. 

“This represents a good opportunity for the youth to gain employment. They do not have to till the land under the hot sun anymore. Instead, they can be pilots who broadcast seeds and medicines over farmland. It can also revive the farming sector of the state,” says Manuel. 

The cost of the drone used by KVK is Rs 10 lakh. It runs on two batteries which last for around half an hour on normal occasions. In one go, it can distribute about 35 kilograms of seed. One would need at least five sets of batteries to use the drone continuously. 

“Both the central and state governments are in favour of bringing this technology into the agricultural sector. By providing loans and subsidies, the usage of drones can popularised and native youth can be attracted into the farming sector,” says Manuel. 

The trial run was held with support from the M.S. Swaminathan Rice Research Centre under KAU at Mankombu. This Centre arranged the farmland where the trial run was carried out and also met the logistics involved. 

“We were excited about the experiment but were not quite sure if it would succeed. However, the experiment exceeded our expectations in terms of the efficiency with which the seeds were broadcasted and the time that was saved. We are glad to be a part of this,” said M Surendran, Director of the centre. 

With the advent of drones, farming is expected to evolve from being a labour-intensive process to becoming no less of a techie job promising a handsome income without breaking a sweat. A change of this magnitude will accomplish the twin goals of creating high-profile job opportunities for youth and saving the agricultural sector of the state from extinction. 

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