Sun | Oct 1, 2023

Farmers urged to tap drones for spraying, surveillance benefits

Published:Friday | February 17, 2023 | 12:31 AMAinsworth Morris/Staff Reporter
Stephen Jones (second left), chief strategic officer of environment solutions at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), discusses how the agricultural drone works with (from left) Hartnell Campbell, senior programmer, RADA; Agriculture Minist
Stephen Jones (second left), chief strategic officer of environment solutions at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA), discusses how the agricultural drone works with (from left) Hartnell Campbell, senior programmer, RADA; Agriculture Minister Pearnel Charles Jr; Agriculture State Minister Franklin Witter; and Bevene Martin-Dickenson, St Thomas RADA parish manager, during a tour of onion farms in St Thomas on Thursday.
An agricultural drone on a demonstration flight, spraying onions on a farm in St Thomas on Thursday.
An agricultural drone on a demonstration flight, spraying onions on a farm in St Thomas on Thursday.
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The Government has invested approximately $12 million in importing two cutting-edge Agri Spray Drones, setting the pace for revolutionising how farmers conduct pest-control initiatives on crops islandwide.

This investment is not only expected to give farmers relief from the physical strains of loading 30-pound insecticide containers on their backs to spray crops, but also saving millions in purchasing chemicals.

One of the drones was unveiled on Thursday during the tour of onion farms in Careeras, St Thomas, and officials demonstrated how the technology operates.

Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Pearnel Charles Jr, who was present at the unveiling, described the drones as a “massive innovation in agriculture”.

“It did what we would do in hours in minutes, with less material and more efficiently,” he boasted.

“So when we talk about growing smart, we’re talking about introducing innovation, we’re talking about better operations, we’re talking about strategic partnerships, and so we are here showing the results of partnerships,” Charles added.

He also that said he hopes the investment by the Government will boost the level of enthusiasm among farmers and have them pooling resources to also purchase drones.

“We want persons to come in and make the investment. I think it’s a really good business. It will support small farmers and larger farmers and most importantly, that’s what ‘grow smart’ [is about] – more efficiency, better production, better productivity, better sustainable development for Jamaica,” Charles said.

Environmental Solutions Limited provided a free spraying of one acre of land in Careeras, and Food For The Poor Jamaica handed over tools and other farm supplies to 16 farmers.

Hartnell Campbell, senior programme and drone manager at the Rural Agricultural and Development Authority (RADA), told The Gleaner that free training will soon be offered exclusively to interested farmers.

Campbell also highlighted that the Agri Spray Drones are very efficient with the capability to spray tall fruit trees such as papaya and mango trees.

The drones can be accessed by farmers who make requests through RADA’s mobile app or by contacting their extension officer.

However, the Government is encouraging farmers to pool and form groups to purchase drones and use them for land surveying, mapping, and surveillance.

Campbell noted that there are other smaller drones available on the market, starting at $110,000, which farmers can invest in. They can assist in doing an assessment of farms and animals and sensitising the Agri Spray Drones on how to treat subsections of farmlands that are dying.

“It’s easier for you to spray using the drone than to have somebody manually spraying with a mist blower spray ... . The sprayer drone can spray the entire plants – from top down – on one acre of land in 20 minutes ... and some drones are accurate down to three centimetres while flying at 200 feet,” Campbell explained to The Gleaner.

He said the Agri Spray Drones, with their multispectral cameras, will offer information to farmers on when crops are dying, solutions for precision agriculture, and help them pinpoint exactly where they have problems on their farms.

The drones can also be used for surveillance of farm areas, and their multispectral cameras can visualise through four spectrums of light and greater than the human eyes.

“We’re talking about growing smart, eating smart. That is our mantra in the ministry right now, and so we want to tell farmers in order for you to grow smart, you have to actually not waste things. Your chemicals are actually very expensive, so we don’t want to waste them,” Campbell said, adding that the drones could also help with surveillance to fight praedial larceny.

ainsworth.morris@gleanerjm.com