The answer to many challenges of farmers in Latin America is smaller and nimbler than you may think: Drones can support farmers and large fruit producers in the Global South to protect their crops, improve their productivity, and achieve greater profitability. Drones can enable more precise applications near buffer zones and reduce operator exposure to agrochemicals. In Colombia and Ecuador, BASF is helping to establish networks of partners, including the farmers. Through these collaborations, profitability and safety are improved throughout the agro ecosystem.
In the valley of the Magdalena River in the middle of the Andean region, it’s often cloudy and today only stray beams of sunshine break through as Nicolás Pérez drives his pickup to his rice field. Located west of Bogota, Colombia, the city of Venadillo is fertile agricultural grounds. Today, Nicolás is up against weeds and pests. If left untreated, these will reduce his rice yield and endanger his earnings. 31-year-old will apply agrochemicals, just like many farmers do to protect their crops. But instead of shouldering a heavy backpack sprayer and navigating muddy paddy fields in hot and humid environments for hours – like his father did and so many Colombian farmers are still doing today – Nicolás pushes the start button of his drone and prepares its takeoff.
Smart Agriculture with Drones: Experiences from Latin America
Digitalization, and particularly drone technology, has the power to transform agriculture. This innovative application technology can change one of the most physically demanding jobs in farming. Colombian farmers are aging and working in agriculture seems to be turning into a less attractive job option for young people. Access to state-of-the-art innovation and digital technologies can not only contribute to make a better living, but also helps making the biggest job on Earth becoming more attractive for younger generations.
Drone pioneers bring digitalization to the farm
Nicolás took up farming out of family tradition and has never regretted it: “My family has been farming for 60 years. It was my good fortune to be born into this rice-farming family. I decided to carry on the family tradition.” For more than 10 years now, he works as the crop production manager at their mid-size agricultural business that covers 80 hectares of mainly rice but also corn and cotton. His passion is introducing new technologies to tackle the biggest job on earth: balancing the need for increased productivity, environmental protection and value to society. “My responsibility in the farm starts at the beginning of sowing, giving the technical assistance, up to the harvest. I’m also in charge of all tasks related to drone spraying,” Nicolás explains. “We pioneered the use of drones in rice farming in Colombia. For four years we have been using our own drone to apply agrochemicals to the fields. We are very satisfied with the water savings, reduced cost and time and, finally, improvements for health and safety.”
Nicolás is convinced of the power digitalization has to transform Colombia’s agriculture. Approximately 20 percent of the country’s population lives in rural areas, mostly relying on farming as the main source of income and stand to benefit from the efficiencies and safety from digital innovations like drones.