Agriculture has seen its fair share of revolutions over the past 100 years: from the advent of synthetic fertilizers at the beginning of the 20th century to the so-called Green Revolution starting in the 1960s that brought a new generation of high-yielding crops to farmers around the world. Now, change is in the air once more—this time quite literally. The use of drones is set to change how crops are grown. Together with big data, they are driving the transition to precision farming.
Reducing costs and chemical run-off
Precision farming incorporates a range of technologies and practices all aimed at monitoring and managing crops in much more detail than ever before. This relies on data gathered by cameras and sensors, which are then processed by complex algorithms to glean unprecedented insights into the growth, health, and needs of the plants out in the field. Armed with precision technologies, growers are now able to apply crop protection inputs in smaller quantities with greater accuracy and effectiveness. That is good news for farmers and the environment alike, as it increases yields while reducing costs and chemical run-off. As it turns out, though, this may require smart agricultural chemistry in spraying formulations to put the »precision« in precision farming. That is where Clariant’s range of specialized spraying adjuvants for use in drones comes in.
»A more sustainable agriculture is becoming a reality and precision farming and drones play a big part in it.«
Mani Narayanan, Head of Global Marketing for Crop Solutions
The Next Big Wave
»A more sustainable agriculture is becoming a reality,« says Mani Narayanan, Clariant’s Head of Global Marketing for Crop Solutions. »And precision farming and drones play a big part in it.« He points to the fact that China alone has increased its fleet of agricultural drones more than tenfold between 2015 and 2020. Today, most agricultural drones are used for field mapping and crop monitoring purposes. Equipped with sensors and data connectivity, they aid growers in quickly and easily analyzing entire fields with pinpoint accuracy. To many in the industry, using drones for spray applications is the logical next step. It allows for the delivery of crop inputs such as fertilizers and crop protection precisely where and when needed.
There are many advantages to using drones for spraying crop inputs. The most obvious lie in technology-aided precision application. Using real-time data and variable application rate technology, a drone can deliver just the right dosage to the right area of a given field and potentially even down to individual plant and its current growth stage. »There are many other practical upsides to drones,« Mani Narayanan explains. They can deliver inputs to areas that are impossible to navigate with other machinery or even hard to reach on foot. They get to the tops of high-growing crops. Thus orchards, vineyards, forestry, high terrain, or water-logged terrace farms stand to benefit from drone use. Then there is the safety aspect: more precise application helps to alleviate concerns about the environmental damage that excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers can cause.
Doing More With Less
While drone spraying has many advantages, there are also some hurdles. For one, a single drone can only lift so much. That means whatever it sprays needs to be more concentrated, lest the drones make countless trips back and forth to refill. »Such low volume applications mean that you can’t rely on a large volume of water to dilute and evenly disperse a formulation of, say, a fungicide, across an entire field,« explains Stephanie Giessler-Geiss, Global Application Development Manager for Crop Solutions at Clariant. »It is not as simple as loading your drone with a conventional formulation. Instead, we are looking at ultra-low volume applications that require optimized spray solutions and very accurate spraying.«
That is why, as one of the leading global suppliers of specialty chemicals for agriculture, Clariant created DropForward: a focused approach to drone-specific adjuvants and formulations. Synergen® DRT, for example, is Clariant’s first tank-mix adjuvant developed specifically for drone application. »Mixed in with the actives, Synergen® DRT helps to manage drift, coverage, and penetration of the actives in a range of agricultural sprays« Giessler-Geiss explains. »Remember, you’re spraying droplets of a much more concentrated product from higher up than usual, so you need to prevent the product from drifting with the wind. You need to help it cover the leaves and stick to them instead of just bouncing or running off. And you need to ensure that the product penetrates the leaves reliably rather than just sit on the surface without reaching its biological target.«
»Synergen® DRT helps to manage drift, coverage, and penetration of the actives in a range of agricultural sprays.«
Stephanie Giessler-Geiss, Global Application Development Manager for Crop Solutions
Precision in Practice
To test the effectiveness of its solution in the field, Clariant partnered with agricultural service providers in several countries. »In Brazil, for example, we ran extensive trials on experimental plots growing a range of 13 crops such as cotton, oats, wheat, beans, coffee, orange, and papaya«, says Giessler-Geiss. In these trials, Clariant successfully demonstrated how Synergen® DRT manages drift while also helping to improve coverage and penetration for about 25 active ingredients. In many cases, the results were plain to see: »You could clearly delineate plots, where the actives were sprayed with the help of our solution compared to the controls,« says Giessler-Geiss.
Further trials are now underway in Europe and Asia. »Rice, cotton, and coffee growers in developing countries stand to benefit particularly from these types of drone applications,« says Mani Narayanan. He sees a future where an integrated service ecosystem that includes drone operators allows growers to access the technology without much capital investment. »You would see increased productivity, lower labor and material costs, more efficient use of materials, and much less impact on the environment,« he says. »Plus, this ecosystem of agricultural services brings new economic opportunities for rural communities.« Much like the drones themselves, adjuvants such as Synergen® DRT can help bring precision farming to the field and support farmers in reaping more of the benefits.
What makes this chemistry greater?
- Synergen® DRT helps to manage drift, coverage, and penetration of the actives in a range of agricultural sprays.
- Adjuvants such as Synergen® DRT can help bring precision farming to the field and support farmers in reaping more of the benefits.
- Drones can deliver inputs to areas that are impossible to navigate with other machinery or even hard to reach on foot. They get to the tops of high-growing crops. Thus orchards, vineyards, forestry, high terrain, or water-logged terrace farms stand to benefit from drone use.
- More precise application helps to alleviate concerns about the environmental damage that excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers can cause.