Drone technology can help farmers reduce their reliance on chemicals to control pests on their crops by up to 30percent, resulting in less stressed plants and a healthier harvest, according to Jean Kuiper, the owner of Rosenhof Organic Farm in Elgin, 70km south-east of Cape Town.
The farm produces organic vegetables, apples and pears, organic raspberries and also has free-range chickens.
Kuiper uses drone technology from Aerobotics, a Cape Town-based firm, as a tool for improved agricultural outcomes. She said farmers understood the value of a scout as it reduced the chemical input by up to 30percent.
Aerobotics is a data analytics company, which uses aerial imagery and machine learning algorithms to optimise crop performance for farmers around the world through its cloud-based web app Aeroview. It is setting the standard for crop analytics globally.
Aerobotics was started in 2014 by founders Benjamin Meltzer and James Paterson.
Kuiper said one needs to understand that the healthier the crop, whether it was a tree or potato plant, the more resistant it was to insects. She said insecticides and fungicides were not healthy for plants and caused them to be stressed.
Kuiper said all insecticides killed the natural predators, which feed on the plant. “We need to improve soil health to improve human health and the less chemicals we use, the less toxic we make it,” said Kuiper.
The Aeroview Scout is a mobile-based app from Aerobotics that enables farmers to take their insights into the field by working off-line and syncs in-field findings to when wi-fi is connected.
“That information is invaluable to the farmer, because he knows that orchard has a particular problem and sprays accordingly. He doesn’t just go and spray the whole lot, he sprays what he needs, and immediately he will drop his chemical input by 30percent. That’s our experience on the farm,” said Kuiper.
Earlier, at the Aerobotics headquarters in Woodstock, Paterson said that the partnership the firm had with Nedbank allowed the team to continue expanding and continue working on new technologies. He said he and Meltzer started the company four years ago.
“We started off quite broad, working on all sorts of aerial technologies, but we found the real value sitting in agriculture. There is so much data sitting here, when we started to measure that data using drones and satellites and then artificial intelligence and machine learning to leverage that data,” said Paterson.
Stuart van der Veen, Nedbank CIB (corporate investment banking) head of disruption and innovation, said: “Aerobotics is a disruptive tech company that builds advanced analytics on top of aerial drone and satellite imagery to deliver precision farming tools for clients. We partnered with the business to conduct an initial experiment by flying drones over the pecan nut farms of one of our prospective agricultural clients.”
He said that the high resolution drone data that was collected was used to calculate tree health and canopy size.
“Our collaboration with Aerobotics has enabled us to expand the value of this data for farmers. The in-depth data is also proving useful in terms of our own client assessments and, ultimately, delivering effective, scalable holistic agriculture solutions that have real potential to eventually transform farming and agriculture finance in South Africa, the rest of Africa and even the world.
“For us, the results we are seeing from the Aerobotics project epitomise the real value and power of disruption, done right. We believe that true disruptors are those organisations that are able to see through their traditional roles and functions and create new realities for their clients and their businesses,” said Van der Veen.