Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU) will prepare farming for the future where the modern technology will be leveraged through whuch the pesticides and fertilizers would be ‘air-dropped.
PJTSAU, which has already been dealing with preparing farmer training courses to be delivered via Rythu Vedikas, is planning to train farmers to operate drones for plant protection meaures and crop management practices by implementing a short-term certification course.
The university administration is in discussions with the GMR Aviation Academy and intends to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the latter in order to introduce the certification courses at the university.
The academy is likely to handle practical training classes as part of the certification course with the help of simulation models.
The role of AI and ML
‘In line with the State government’s plans to encourage mechanisation in farming as well as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) not only to address the growing shortage of manpower but also to enhance the quality of the produce,’ the university said.
With the State government’s keen interest in using drones in farming, especially in plant protection measures such as detection of pest and insect attacks and remedial measures such as pesticide spraying, the university has been working in the region for a couple of years.
‘We recently received permission from the Director General of Civil Aviation to expand our research into the use of drones in agriculture. In reality, PJTSAU is the country’s first university to receive such approval,’ the V-C said.
Ground work completion
The university has already finished aerial mapping, demarcation, and digitalization of the boundary lines of the PJTSAU main campus, agricultural research stations (ARS), and krishi vigyan kendras (KVKs), used drones to spray fluid requirements on rice crop at the Rice Research Centre on the main campus, and investigated the effect of drones versus traditional spraying operations on safflower aphid management at ARS Tandur in Vikarabad District, Mr. Praveen Rao mentioned.
Furthermore, the university has signed an agreement with Madras Institute of Technology (MIT), Anna University to advance drone technology for the betterment of Telangana farmers and stakeholders. ‘The demand for manpower to manage drones for plant protection operation is huge, and our aim to launch this course is to meet such a demand,’ he told.
The V-C further added that the University will begin experimenting with drone spraying of pesticides and fertilisers in order to prepare for a new era of agriculture in which technology and IT solutions will play a major role.
Beginning with the upcoming kharif season, the university will collect data and calculate the effect of such spraying on various sections of a plant.
Procedures for operation
‘We can pin litmus paper-like material to the plant’s leaves at various stages. The number of droplets can be used to measure the spray’s pressure. Different crops need different concentration doses of pesticide sprays at different stages of the plant,’ Vice-Chancellor V Praveen Rao explained.
The scientists at the university will develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the height at which the drones can fly, the width of spray coverage, and the strength of the spray on different sections of the plant.
Farmers can reproduce the SOPs for drone flight path, altitude, quantum, and payload spread for various crops after iterations. ‘We have selected paddy, cotton, redgram, maize, and soya for the five-district pilot,’ Rao said.
Following the creation of the protocols, the university intends to cover crops in other states.
The approval of the Ministry
The Civil Aviation Ministry has granted the university and Marut Dronetech Private Limited (which provides drones) permission to use drones for the evaluation and standardisation of plant safety solutions, as well as the creation of protocols for the diagnosis of major pests and diseases. The authorization is valid until March 16, 2022.
Marut Dronetech, founded driven by IIT-Guwahati alumni, have created drone solutions for mosquito eradication, sustainable farming, and afforestation.
‘We have mapped and invited approximately 110 engineering start-ups working in different areas of agriculture to review their plans.’ We have listed 12 start-ups, among them that plan to use blockchain, AI, ML, drones, and sensors to know the optimum soil moisture,’ Rao said. The university aims to incubate and mentor such start-ups.