By Zac B. Sarian

Don’t look now but Arsenio “Toto” Barcelona of Harbest Agribusiness is once again pioneering in the commercial application of something new that will make farming more efficient and economical. It might be recalled he was the same fellow who pioneered in introducing plastic mulch for growing vegetables and other high-value crops more than 15 years ago. Today, plastic mulch has become a standard input in modern farming in the Philippines.

This time, Toto has introduced drones, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for use in agriculture, particularly in spraying fertilizers and pesticides on practically every crop that is grown in the Philippines. His first importation of five drones from China arrived a few weeks ago from Eagle Brother UAV Innovation Co. These consist of two M-12, 12-liter capacity, and three D-10, 10- liter capacity.

Toto calls his flying machines Agila Drones. Each drone can spray one hectare of standing crops in just 20 minutes, using only 18 liters of water instead of 100 to 200 liters in conventional spraying. Depending on the model used, one drone can cover 30 to 80 hectares in eight hours. With the use of drones, farmers will no longer be exposed to long hours of chemical exposure under the sun. Toto adds that rice farmers’ feet will no longer be exposed to wet paddies, which can cause skin diseases. Hard to reach pests and diseases of standing crops could be addressed in an instant. For example, army worms that can devastate an onion field in one day can be instantly controlled or prevented from inflicting damage.

Features of the drones that will answer the concerns of many farmers include lightweight, simple, and durable design; efficiency, ease of operation, economy; computerized flight path setting, GPS, and WIFI connectivity; cloud management platform, rechargeable battery as power source; night flying capability, slope and voyage obstacles avoidance, and several other features.

Toto said that Harbest is now in the process of organizing its team of in-house drone pilots, trouble shooting, and repair and maintenance teams in its branches. All legal documentations with the Civil Aeronautics Board, Civil Aeronautics Administration of the Philippines, AMTEC, Fertilizer and Pesticide Authority, and LGU permits will need to be processed. Toto admits that it is a tedious but necessary process that needs to be done to ease the life of our farmers.

Barcelona has that sharp sense of foresight when it comes to opportunities in agribusiness. He said that two years ago, he started doing research on the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles which can do agricultural spraying using drones. At that time, and even earlier, drones were considered “toys” then as surveillance and monitoring equipment for military and civilian use. Toto visited several agricultural exhibitions in Thailand and Taiwan. He also visited drone companies to understand better what this new gadget for farming is all about. After getting a clear understanding about what drones can do, Toto included drones as a product line offered by Harbest to Filipino farmers. He chose as his supplier and partner, the multi-awarded Eagle Brother UAV Innovation Co. Ltd. from China. The Chinese company is currently the top agricultural drone supplier in China. It has started developing its markets in foreign countries, the Philippines being one of them.

For palay direct seeding 

The drones are not only suitable for super fast spraying of fertilizers and pesticides. They can also be used for direct seeding and dry seeding of rice. SeedWorks Philippines president Carlos Saplala says that some hybrid rice varieties like TH 82 are highly suitable for direct, as well as dry seeding. The use of drones will make it a fast and economical way of establishing a rice plantation. Seeding a hectare can be done in 20 minutes, and the amount of seeds used would be much less than when the conventional way of seedling production for manual transplanting is followed.

So, let us welcome the drones as the new form of farm mechanization.