Crops spraying made easy with new drone technology

Sugarcane is quite a unique crop – it can only be farmed in a hot and wet climate such as that of KwaZulu-Natal. In the final episode Mzansi Wethu’s agricultural show, African Farming, Angie Khumalo, presenter of the show, was excited to return to her home province to learn more about sugarcane farming from Bheki Mhlane, who inherited a farm from his family in Umzinto on the South Coast.

She also interviewed Ben Schoonwinkel, Head of Customer Marketing at Syngenta during the studio interview. 

“Over the years Syngenta had been deeply involved in the establishment of sugarcane farming in South Africa,” Angie said. “The company stood by these farmers over the years, what is the challenges these farmers face today?” 

Schoonwinkel said because of various difficulties the amount of sugarcane hectare in South Africa dropped by 20 to 25 % during the last two decades. 

“One of the main reasons for this is the sugar tax that was introduced by government. Because of this, (sugar)mills also closed down. Farmers had to travel vast distances to get to a mill, which impacted their profit margins. 

He said sugarcane is different from other crops; fields are not easily accessible, so one cannot use a tractor or sprayer to apply chemicals, making pest control more difficult. At the moment most sugarcane farmers make use of aeroplanes to apply chemicals, but it is costly and time consuming. 

“It can take up to a week after a pest has been detected, to reserve a plane. This gives the disease or pest more time to infest the fields.”  

He says one of the new technologies on the market that Syngenta suggests to farmers is drone technology. Drones are poised to have a major impact on farm production as a relatively inexpensive way to monitor fields and treat crops with chemicals. At the moment drones are at the leading edge of technology but most agricultural experts believe it will become a common sight on farms in the future. The expectation of the potential positive impact of drones on the economy of agriculture is high.

“By using drones, the chemicals are applied immediately and more effectively as the drones can fly closer to the fields, also making it is more economical.” 

According to Syngenta, small agile drones are a much cheaper way to survey crops and gather images, than using aircraft or satellites, and it is faster than scouting fields on foot. Drone images are usually high quality and can provide precise details about crops with geo-referencing. It is a good idea for farmers to find out more about drone technology now, as it will help them keep up with the technology as it continues to evolve. 

For information: contact Syngenta on 011 541 4000.

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