The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has granted UK drone specialist AutoSpray Systems with the first ever Operational Authorisation for agricultural spraying. To date UK drone use has been strictly regulated by the CAA with take-off weight limited at 25kgs and a ban on the release of materials from the air. The new authorisation will see AutoSpray Systems utilising P40 and V40 UAVs from its Chinese partner XAG to spray British fields legally.
Why use drones in agriculture?
With increasingly variable changes in weather such as extreme rainfall events or long periods of drought, the structural viability of soil is being challenged. Traditional heavy farming equipment such as tractors or self-propelled sprayers can damage the ground, squeezing out the air causing it to become compacted. Machinery can easily become stuck in saturated conditions.
Spraying by drone not only provides additional protection to the farmland but also enables easier access on tricky terrain. XAG’s autonomous drones for agriculture can spray and spread precisely straight to the target. The UAVs not only conform to the operational safety standards, but also help farmers boost yields with less input.
In addition to plant protection spraying, typical farming applications for drones also include fertiliser spreading, broadcast sowing, and greenhouse shading.
Change in UK Government Strategy
The change in drone use approval came about following the release of the UK Government’s ambition statement and vision for commercial drones in 2022. It is anticipated that by 2030, the country will have 900,000 drones in operation, which would create 650,000 new jobs, contribute £45 billion to the UK economy, save £22 billion in business and reduce carbon emissions by 2.4 million tons. The widespread use of commercial drones will, it is predicted, benefit the UK rural economy and reduce environmental footprints.
What are the environmental benefits of drone use in agriculture?
Under new Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) schemes from the UK’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), farmers will be paid up to £40 per hectare for ‘actions that improve soil health’ and for mitigating climate change during production. The use of drones to spray fields delivers clear environmental benefits in agriculture through reduced soil compaction.
Running on batteries, the electric XAG Agricultural Drone also reduces overall on-farm diesel use and lowers greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
Smartphone-controlled P40 and V40 drones from XAG are designed for precision, with RTK centimetre-level navigation, to decrease the amount of agri-chemicals being used. This also benefits the environment through reductions in chemical run-off (into nearby waterways).