XAG Trials On-Farm Spraying via Drone in Ecuador
September 20, 2021
XAG has announced that its agricultural drones were recently introduced to a series of on-farm spraying trials for high-altitude specialty crops. Flying into the Andes mountains of Ecuador, the demonstrations on potato fields have presented the potential of fully autonomous drones to reduce labor costs and agricultural pesticide exposure, the company said.
With diverse climate and rural landscapes, more than half of Ecuador is located in the Andes at sea level over 3,000 meters, growing common crops such as corn, wheat, barley, and potatoes. The major farming steps from crop spraying to fertilizing can become difficult at this altitude, compared to that on the plains. Both small farms and large farms are investigating high-precision drones as alternatives to manual labor and ground machinery. While rural youth have been trained as XAG drone pilots, more abandoned farmlands are being restored to fertile soils that can cultivate exotic Ecuadorian fruits and vegetables.
Since July, XAG said its local partner, MegaDrone, has been conducting drone spraying demonstrations for Andean potato farmers in the Carchi region. The growing potato crops were evenly sprayed with minimal chemicals by XAG’s agricultural drones equipped with four atomized nozzles and a 16-liter smart liquid tank. For most Ecuadorian farmers on scene, this was their first time watching a drone spray crops along the slopes of the Andes, XAG said.
The trials were held in Farm Hacienda la Ovejeria, about a 10-hour drive from Ecuador’s capital, Quito. Additional challenges for farmers include soil erosion and inaccurate pesticide application.
Traditionally, manual spraying and ground-based machinery are two main solutions to protect crops from pests and diseases. Although large tractors can enhance productivity of potato farms, their increased weight and size make them hard to adapt to the mountainous terrain, while large tires could compact the fragile mountain soil.
XAG said that flying over the canopy from 2 meters above, the drone could deliver droplets directly to the base of the potato plants, without causing spray drift and soil compaction. With more than 4,000 varieties of potato crops, it is susceptible to weevils and tuber moth, which can ruin the potato fields. IN the past, farmers would need to spray pesticides 14 times during a growth cycle to prevent severe yield loss caused by pest hazards. Indiscriminate spray by hand or boom spray by ground machines could lead to an overuse of pesticides, which has contaminated soil and water of the Andean mountains.
During the drone spraying demos, XAG said there was a 30% reduction in chemical use and 90% water saving compared with manual methods.
“It has been acknowledged that XAG’s agricultural drone can accurately navigate itself and keep spray on the right target,” said Ma Zhiqiang, CEO of MegaDrone. “Its level of automation and precision is unachievable by other agricultural equipment, which helps to phase out the farmer stereotype.”
The company said another test will be arranged in October to further evaluate the spraying performance of agricultural drones before farmers adopt this new technology. The country’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock has implemented a 5 million Euro project to introduce technical assistance for the preservation of the Andean landscapes. XAG said the agricultural drone would be a powerful tool to promote sustainable farming of Ecuador’s 3.2 million hectares of cultivable soil.