Drone Technology In Agriculture: Indian Experience – Analysis


The drone blitz is said to be, by far, the largest collective agricultural drone exercise in the country. New technologies would bring a “world of opportunities for farmers and youth”.

A raft of recent policy relaxations and incentives, including proposals in the Union budget 2022-23, have opened up India’s vast agriculture sector for commercial use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles. This is a new chapter in the direction of modern agricultural facilities of the 21st century. This beginning will not only prove to be a milestone in the development of the drone sector but will also open the sky to unlimited possibilities.

The world population is predicated at 9 billion by 2050. Agricultural consumption is also likely to increase exponentially by nearly 70 per cent. Drone technology equipped with artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and remote sensing features, are rising in demand because of its numerous advantages. The central government has acknowledged the importance of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), machine learning, and artificial intelligence with their ‘Digital Sky Platform’ online. Drone start-ups in India have used this opportunity to accomplish better technological capacities.

Only after complete recognition of drone characteristics, one can gain in-depth knowledge about agriculture drones. Typically, drones include a navigation system, GPS, multiple sensors, high-quality cameras, programmable controllers, and tools for autonomous drones. The DJI is one such familiar drone utilized by the industry. Most farmers currently use satellite imagery as an introductory guide for farm management. Furnished with modern technology, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) can get more precise data than satellites for precision agriculture. They then process the data captured into agri-tech software to produce beneficial knowledge

Drone technology is growing fast in almost every sector of the economy, but drone usage in the agricultural industry is booming. The agricultural drone market is expected to grow from a $1.2 billion (USD) industry in 2019 to $4.8 billion in 2024. Drones are uncrewed aerial vehicles (also known as UAVs), which are used for surveillance in various industries. Till now, they were primarily used by companies working in industrial sectors such as mining and construction, army, and hobbyists. But now, drone technology is increasingly available for use in various sectors of agriculture as well. Drones can be powered by battery, hybrid (battery + gasoline) or just gasoline. They are available with a tank capacity of 5 litres up to 20 litres. Flight endurance of agriculture spraying drones ranges from 7 minutes up to 45 minutes depending on its payload and maximum power capacity. Drones can direct spray more accurately and more uniformly across the field reducing wastage of chemicals, its costs and saving time. 

Though the technology is still nascent in India, many companies are trying so that it is easily available to Indian farmers and ready to be used to increase efficiency in agricultural production. Here is a list of the best commercial drones available in India for agricultural spraying purposes

Agribot Agriculture Spraying Drone
Spraying Tank Capacity: 10 Litres /16 Litres
Fully Loaded Take-Off Weight: 24.90Kg
Flight Time: 20 Minutes
Coverage: 6 Minutes/ Acre

Syena Q10 Agriculture Spraying Drone
Spraying Tank Capacity: 10 Litres
Fully Loaded Take-Off Weight: 29.40 Kg
Flight Time: 20 Minutes 
Coverage: 6-8 Acres/ Hour
Power: Battery-Electric

DH Agrigator Agriculture Spraying Drone
Spraying Tank Capacity: 12 Litres
Fully Loaded Take-Off Weight: 47.60 Kg
Flight Time: 25 Minutes
Coverage: 7-10 Minutes/ Acre. 
Power: Petrol 

Krishak Agriculture Drone
Spraying Tank Capacity: 5-15 Litres
Fully Loaded Take-Off Weight: 49.10 Kg
Flight Time: NA
Coverage: NA
Power: Battery-Electric

Paras Agricopter, Agriculture Spraying Drone
Spraying Tank Capacity: 10 Litres
Fully Loaded Take-Off Weight: 24.85 Kg
Flight Time: 15 Minutes
Coverage: 3 Acres/ Hour
Power: Battery-Electric 

Agricopter AG 365 Agriculture Spraying Drone
Spraying Tank Capacity: 10 Litres
Fully Loaded Take-Off Weight: 29.45 Kg
Flight Time: 20 Minutes
Coverage: NA
Power: Battery-Electric

Best Drone Practices

Drone technology quickly re-establishes traditional agrarian practices and is subsequently accomplishing them as follows:

Scouting/monitoring plant health

Crop surveillance is the supervision of crop progress from the time seeds are sown till the harvest time. This includes fertilizers application at the right time, checking for pest attacks, and monitoring the effect of weather conditions. Crop surveillance is the only way that a farmer can ensure a timely harvest, especially when dealing with seasonal crops.

Any errors at this stage can result in crop failure. Crop surveillance helps in understanding and planning for the next farming season. Drones can help in effective crop surveillance by inspecting the field with infrared cameras and based on their real-time information, farmers can take active measures to improve the condition of plants in the field.

One of the uses for drone imagery that has already been rolled out with great success is for monitoring plant health. Drones equipped with special imaging equipment called Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) use detailed colour information to indicate plant health. This allows farmers to monitor crops as they grow so any problems can be dealt with fast enough to save the plants. Drones using ‘regular’ cameras are also used to monitor crop health. Many farmers already use satellite imagery to monitor crop growth, density, and colouration, but accessing satellite data is costly and not as effective in many cases as closer drone imaging. Because drones fly close to fields, cloud cover and poor light conditions matter less than when using satellite imaging. Satellite imaging may offer meter accuracy, but drone imaging is capable of producing accurate image location to the millimetre. This means that after planting, areas that withstand gaps can be spotted and replanted as needed, and disease or pest problems can be detected and treated right away.

Monitoring field conditions

For efficient field planning, agricultural drones can be used for soil and field analysis. They can be used to mount sensors to evaluate moisture content in the soil, terrain conditions, soil conditions, soil erosion, nutrient content, and fertility of the soil. Drones can provide accurate field mapping including elevation information that allows growers to find any irregularities in the field. Having information on field elevation is useful in determining drainage patterns and wet/dry spots which allow for more efficient watering techniques. Some agricultural drone retailers and service providers also offer nitrogen level monitoring in soil using enhanced sensors. This allows for precise application of fertilizers, eliminating poor growing spots and improving soil health for years to come.

Planting & seeding

One of the newer and less widespread uses of drones in agriculture is for planting seeds. Automated drone seeders are mostly being used in forestry industries right now, but the potential for more widespread use is on the horizon. Planting with drone’s means very hard-to-reach areas can be replanted without endangering workers. They are also able to plant much more efficiently with a team of two operators and ten drones capable of planting 400,000 trees a day.

Spray application

Agri-drones can be used to spray chemicals as they have reservoirs, which can be filled with fertilizers and pesticides for spraying on crops in very little time, as compared to traditional methods. Thus, drone technology can usher in a new era of precision agriculture. Drone use to apply spray treatments is already widespread in Southeast Asia, with South Korea using drones for approximately 30 per cent of their agriculture spraying.

Drone sprayers can navigate very hard-to-reach areas, such as steep tea fields at high elevations. Drone sprayers save workers from having to navigate fields with backpack sprayers, which can be hazardous to their health. Drone sprayers deliver very fine spray applications that can be targeted to specific areas to maximize efficiency and save on chemical costs. Currently, drone sprayer regulations vary widely between countries. In Canada, they are not currently legal as more testing needs to be done to understand the impact of spray drift. Some regulation proposals recommend that only trained professionals be tasked with flying spray drones as is the case with Yamaha, which does not sell the spray drones they manufacture, but leases spray drone services complete with licence operators.


Drone security is a fast-growing industry apart from agriculture but is also extremely useful to farm management. Using drones to monitor the far reaches of a farm without having to get there saves valuable time and allows for more frequent monitoring of hard-to-reach areas. Drone cameras can provide an overview of farm operations throughout the day to ensure operations are running smoothly and to locate equipment being used. Security drones can be deployed to monitor fencing and perimeters of more valuable crops instead of employing more security personnel. Drone cameras are also being used in exciting ways to protect farm animals by locating missing or injured herd animals in far-off grazing areas. Monitoring remote areas, which used to take hours of walking, can now be completed in a few minutes.

Drone pollination

Some of the newer uses for drone use in agriculture are still in testing and development. One of the most publicized (and often fictionalized) uses is pollinating drone technology. Researchers in the Netherlands and Japan are developing small drones that are capable of pollinating plants without damaging them. The next step is to create autonomous pollinating drones that will work and monitor crop health without constant instruction from operators.

Drone AI

Another drone technology in development also involves machine learning. Improving Artificial Intelligence (AI) in drones is important to be able to make them more useful to smaller farmers in developing nations. Current drone technologies are more effective in monitoring well-known crops like corn which are planted in large monocultural field patterns. Drone monitoring programs, as they stand, have a hard time recognizing areas with increased crop diversity, less well-known produce, and grains that look similar throughout their growth stages and so are less effective in monitoring crop growth and health. More work is needed to be able to train AI systems to recognize less common crops and more diverse planting patterns.

Drone irrigation

New research out of Australia is also creating exciting opportunities for drone use in agriculture. Changing climatic conditions increasingly affect drought conditions, so creating more efficient irrigation solutions is vital. Using microwave sensing, drones can capture very accurate soil health information including moisture levels without the plants getting in the way. This means water can be distributed in a field most efficiently to conserve resources.


The thermal cameras installed over drones can easily detect animals or human beings. Hence, drones can guard the fields from external damage caused by animals, especially at night.

Prepare for weather glitches

Weather conditions can prove to be a farmer’s best friend and worst enemy. Since these cannot be accurately predicted, it becomes extremely difficult to prepare for any shift in patterns. Drones can be used to detect upcoming weather conditions. Storm drones are already being used to make better predictions. This information can be used by farmers to be better prepared. Advance notice of storms or lack of rain can be used to plan the crop to be planted that would be best suited to the season, and how to take care of planted crops at a later stage

Livestock management

Drones can be used to monitor and manage huge livestock as their sensors have high-resolution infrared cameras, which can detect a sick animal and swiftly take action accordingly. The impact of drones on precision dairy farming is soon to become a new normal.

Benefits of Drone Technology

The commercial uses of new technology increase day by day with its technological advancement. The government has been easing restrictions for drone usage and is supporting start-ups to come up with novel ideas. As drone surveys become more common, they also become more cost-effective. In agriculture, they have a plethora of advantages as follows:

  • Enhanced production – The farmer can improve production capabilities through comprehensive irrigation planning, adequate monitoring of crop health, increased knowledge about soil health, and adaptation to environmental changes.
  • Effective and adaptive techniques – Drone usage results in regular updates to farmers about their crops and helps develop strengthened farming techniques. They can adapt to weather conditions and allocate resources without any wastage.
  • Greater safety of farmers – It is safer and more convenient for farmers to use drones to spray pesticides in terrains challenging to reach, infected areas, taller crops, and power lines. It also helps farmers prevent spraying the crops, which leads to less pollution and chemicals in the soil.
  • 10x faster data for quick decision-making – Drone surveys back farmers with accurate data processing that encourages them to make quick and mindful decisions without second-guessing, allowing farmers to save the time invested in crop scouting. Various sensors of the drone enable capturing and analyzing data from the entire field. The data can focus on problematic areas such as infected crops/unhealthy crops, different colored crops, moisture levels, etc. The drone can be fixed with several sensors for other crops, allowing a more accurate and diverse crop management system.
  • Less wastage of resources – Agri-drones enables optimum usage of all resources such as fertilizer, water, seeds, and pesticides with about zero per cent wastage.
  • 99 percent Accuracy rate – The drone survey helps farmers calculate the precise land size, segment the various crops, and indulge in soil mapping.
  • Useful for Insurance claims – Farmers use the data captured through drones to claim crop insurance in case of any damages. They even calculate risks/losses associated with the land while being insured.
  • Evidence for insurance companies – Agricultural insurance sectors uses Agri-drones for efficient and trustworthy data. They capture the damages that have occurred for the right estimation of monetary payback to the farmers.

Limitations of Agri-Drones

  • Connectivity issue: Often, online coverage is unavailable in rural areas. Under such circumstances, a farmer needs to invest in internet connectivity, which can turn into a recurring expense.
  • Weather dependent: Drones do not have any operational delays and can work at double the speed of human labour. Drones are heavily dependent on good weather conditions. Under rainy or windy weather conditions, it is not advisable to fly drones.
  • Knowledge and Skill: Using new technology is a welcoming change but using it daily requires the right skill set and adequate knowledge. An average farmer may struggle to understand drone functions. Either he must acquire the knowledge or remain dependent on an experienced person.

Indian Experience

India is primarily an agrarian economy. Agriculture remains the chief source of income for the majority of rural households. India’s economy is also heavily dependent on the agricultural produce that constitutes a major portion of its exports as well. However, despite the mounting importance of agriculture, the sector is still far behind in technological advancements. Agriculture industry in India is proverbially called a “gamble on the monsoon”. Crop failure due to adverse weather conditions and uncontrolled pest issues has been the key contributors to this scenario. Moreover, Indian farmers are even now dependent on monsoon rains for irrigation and use age-old methods for other farming practices. Hence, the quality and quantity of agricultural produce are sometimes compromised despite the relentless efforts of farmers.

Scientific studies are carried out and data supporting the drone application are generated. Pilot studies with different approaches like the use of remote sensing technology including satellite data and drone-based images especially for crop cutting experiments planning, direct yield estimation at Gram Panchayat level, risk mapping of district and for dispute/area discrepancy resolution etc. have been conducted through Mahalanobis National Crop Forecasting Centre (MNCFC).

The use of drones in agriculture is helpful to farmers as it has some distinct advantages such as high field capacity and efficiency, less turnaround time and other field operational delays, wastage reduction of pesticide and fertilizers due to high degree of atomization, water saving due to ultra-low volume spraying technology in comparison to traditional spraying methods, reduction in cost of spraying and fertilizer application in comparison to conventional methods etc. besides reduction of human exposure to hazardous chemicals.

A lot of drone-based agricultural projects are undergoing in India. Looking into the advantages of drone technologies in agriculture, the Department of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare (DA&FW) has released the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which provide concise instructions for effective and safe operations of drones for pesticide and nutrient application. The Central Insecticides Board & Registration Committee (CIB&RC) has prescribed the guidelines/protocols for registration requirements of pesticides for drone application. It has also finalized the test protocols for phytotoxicity evaluation and bio-efficacy evaluation of pesticide formulation. To promote the use of drone technology in agriculture, the following provisions have been made under the guidelines of the Sub-Mission on Agricultural Mechanization (SMAM) being implemented by DA&FW:

  • On 26 January 2022, the Government of India released a certification scheme for agricultural drones, which can now carry a payload that does not include chemicals or other liquids used in spraying drones. Such liquids may be sprayed by following applicable rules and regulations.
  • On 23rd January 2022, to promote the use of drones for agricultural purposes and reduce the labour burden on the farmers, the Government of India has recently offered, a 100 per cent subsidy or 10 lakhs, whichever is less, up to March 2023 to the Farm Machinery Training and Testing Institutes, institutes under Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), State Agriculture Universities (SAUs), State and other Central Government Agricultural Institutions/Departments and Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) of Government of India engaged in agricultural activities.
  • The Farmers Producers Organizations (FPOs) are provided grants up to 75 per cent of the cost of agriculture drones for their demonstrations on the farmers’ fields. A contingency expenditure of Rs.6000 per hectare is provided to implementing agencies that do not want to purchase drones but will hire drones for demonstrations from Custom Hiring Centres, Hi-tech Hubs, Drone Manufacturers and Start-Ups. The contingent expenditure to implementing agencies that purchase drones for drone demonstrations is limited to Rs.3000 per hectare.
  • To make available drone services to farmers on a rental basis, financial assistance @ 40 per cent up to a maximum of Rs. 4.00 lakhs is provided for the purchase of drones by Custom Hiring Centers under the Cooperative Society of Farmers, FPOs and Rural entrepreneurs. Agriculture graduates establishing Custom Hiring Centers are eligible to receive financial assistance @ 50 per cent of the cost of drone up to a maximum of Rs.5.00 lakhs per drone.
  • For individual purchase of drones, the Small and Marginal, Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe, Women and North Eastern State farmers are provided financial assistance @ 50per cent of the cost up to a maximum of Rs. 5.00 lakhs and other farmers @ 40per cent up to a maximum of Rs. 4.00 lakhs.
  • Additionally, a contingency fund of Rs.6000/hectare will also be set up for hiring Drones from Custom Hiring Centres (CHC). The subsidy and the contingency funds will help the farmer’s access and adopt this extensive technology at an inexpensive price.
  • On 16 November 2020, the Indian government granted the International Crops Research Institute (ICRISAT), to use of drones for agricultural research activities. With this move, the government hopes to encourage budding researchers and entrepreneurs to look at budget-friendly drone solutions for more than 6.6 lakh Indian villages.

Funds amounting to Rs. 52.50 Crores have been released to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) for taking up large-scale demonstrations of drone technology on the farmers’ fields in the country through 100 Kishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), 75 institutions under ICAR and 25 State Agricultural Universities. Funds amounting to Rs. 70.88 Crores have also been released to various State Governments for demonstration, providing subsidies to the farmers and establishment of Custom Hiring Centres for providing drone services to the farmers. Though the usage will be conditional, it is a revolutionary step. Agriculture drones are poised to play a big role in agriculture, especially in areas including precision agriculture, improvement in crop yield, and locust control.

Drones have already vastly altered the agricultural industry and will continue to grow in the coming years. While drone use is becoming more useful to small farmers, there is still a way to go before it become part of every farmer’s equipment roster. Regulations around drone use need to be made and revised and more research needs to be done on their effectiveness at certain tasks, such as pesticide application and spraying. There are many ways drones can be useful to farmers but it is important to understand their limitations and functions before investing in expensive equipment. 

Final Thoughts

The adoption of drone technology in rural India is still in its infancy stages, there are efforts underway to address these challenges and promote the use of drones in agriculture. It is important for farmers to understand the potential benefits of drone technology and to receive the necessary training and support to use it effectively. The adoption of drone technology in the agriculture sector has the potential to transform the way that farmers manage their crops and improve their yields.

While there are challenges to overcome, such as concerns about job loss and a lack of knowledge and training, there are also initiatives underway to promote the use of this technology and provide support to farmers who wish to adopt it. Farmers and policymakers must work together to ensure that the benefits of drone technology in agriculture are realized, while also addressing any concerns or challenges that may arise. By doing so, we can help to create a more sustainable and productive agriculture sector that benefits both farmers and consumers alike. Agricultural drone technology is undoubtedly the future of the Indian agrarian community. It can transform traditional farming methods in uncountable ways. Even though this technology is more complex to be familiar with, it will yield its results in no time once learned. Farmers must understand the entire process. Determination of goals, creating equilibrium in the drone and software utilized, and being familiar with the principles of using such technology will stand as a challenge. The farmers will inevitably need comprehensive training or partnerships with third-party experts in the drone industry for the acquisition of reliable data.

Dr. Gursharan Singh Kainth

Dr. Gursharan Singh Kainth is Founder–Director of Guru Arjan Dev Institute of Development Studies

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