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Interview: The use of agDrones in Asia (Includes interview and first-hand account)

In Asia, sales of agriculture drones have increased by 344 percent, between 2013 and 2015, and they have risen in sales from US$ 94.1 million to US$ 323.9 million. These sales are being driven by economics; improved applications to manage farm cycles; and by significant improvements in drone technology.

Ipsos Business Consulting recently released a report titled “Commercial Drone Adoption in Agribusiness: Disruption and Opportunity“. This report was analyzed in a Digital Journal feature on agricultural drones or ‘agDrones’, (see: “Disruption and opportunities with expansion of agribusiness drones.”)

To find out more, Digital Journal spoke with three representatives of Ipsos: Natee Ruengjirachuporn, who is the Global Agribusiness Sector Lead; Markus Scherer, the company’s Global Drone Technology Lead; and Jessica Chung, who is the Senior Consultant, Centre of Excellence for Drone Technology.

Natee Ruengjirachuporn – Global Agribusiness Sector Lead  Markus Scherer - Global Drone Technology...
Natee Ruengjirachuporn – Global Agribusiness Sector Lead, Markus Scherer – Global Drone Technology Lead, and Jessica Chung – Senior Consultant – Hong Kong

Digital Journal: Please can you explain what Ipsos Business Consulting does and how analyzing drone technology forms part of your company’s brief.

Ipsos: “We are a purpose-driven consultancy that believes knowledge empowers organizations and enables them to create opportunities and generate growth around the world. We do this by drawing on our network of market specialists and consultants who have unparalleled on-the-ground knowledge and extensive experience in key established, emerging and frontier markets around the world. While we have offices in 20 countries across five continents, our experience and ability to provide organizations with fact-based consulting and business strategies extends beyond that well-established geographic footprint.”

“We provide growth strategy consulting to clients around the world with specific focus on Agribusiness, Automotive, Banking and Finance, Construction, Healthcare and Industrial sectors. We have set up a center of excellence for commercial drone technology as we see this innovation as having an impact on our clients across many sectors. For example, we are working with clients in the automotive and imaging sectors who both want to know the developments within agribusiness and how they can play a part in these developments.”

A visit to the colourful Cardonal farmers market is a delight to the senses.
A visit to the colourful Cardonal farmers market is a delight to the senses.
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DJ: What are main risks for farmers and agriculture today?

Ipsos: “There are fundamental challenges faced by the farming industry and those that support it, mostly connected with the challenges and risks associated with increasing yields to meet future increasing demands for food. Whilst the technology and science exists to help meet these challenges, the impact on the nutrients is still being explored. More importantly, in many developing economies, there are still major challenges in getting farmers to adopt all of the modern agriculture techniques.”

DJ: How do these risks apply to Asia in particular?

Ipsos: “Asia is still a developing market, where farmers often cannot access/ make use of traditional mechanization tools such as tractors, combine harvesters etc. There are also signs that the farming industry is starting to suffer from shortages of labor at key times. Some Asia specific issues (note: they will vary from region to region, country to country) include: aging population, urbanization, small farm sizes (which cannot use large scale/expensive machinery or tools), laborious farming population,, increasing demand for variety and volume for food, food security, and the infrastructure support for technological adoption.”

Ipsos pointed out several key issues in Asia that drones could assist farmers with:

• Over spraying/usage of chemicals
• Sustainable farming, yields
• Weather change
• Weather damage
• Lack of cold-storage and logistics (food waste)
• Meeting claiming food demand and climbing food variety demands
• Irrigation

DJ: In what ways can drone technology aid agriculture in Asia?

Ipsos: “Our 2017 study of the agriculture drone technology suggests that the technology has significant promise for alleviating resource constraints on aging farmers, addressing the declining farming population, optimizing crop yield and health, using crop protection chemicals more efficiently, saving costs like chemicals, labor, other equipment.

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“In addition, drone technology can improve sustainability of soil quality, transform farming to become more proactive instead of reactive, encourage precision agriculture farming practices. It is also a comparatively more economical tool that has multi-functions typically delivered by air-only, or land-only agriculture equipment.”

DJ: Who are the leading providers of drone technology?

Ipsos: “It is a developing situation. We mention a few key players in our report. A few examples for Agriculture Drones hardware and software (some are integrated)– Yamaha, XAircraft, Precision Hawk, Parrot, Sensefly, Agribotix, DroneDeploy, DJI.”

DJ: What are the main applications for agridrones?

Ipsos: “Our 2017 study of this technology has concluded that commercial drones in agriculture have potential to help with remote sensing and multispectral imaging, inspection and field monitoring, farm zoning management, yield management, crop spraying, irrigation, seeding, and integrated farm data analysis. With the latter, drones collect information, upload it to cloud, service. This provides an analysis dashboard and makes recommendation on farm management.”

DJ: Have drones been used for anything unexpected or unusual in relation to agriculture?

Ipsos: “Yes. We have seen evidence of drones being used as an alternative tool for aging or resource constrained farmers to monitor their farms. The break through for Drones in Applications for Agriculture is pushing the technology to have a sustainable battery life while carrying a significant pay load (40-60kg and above), and remotely controlling the volume to be dispensed during flight. Drones are also used for crop and livestock management and field management.”

DJ: What types of disruption will the use of drones cause? Will those who don’t adopt drone technology be left behind?

Ipsos: “It is too early to tell when exactly drone adoption will have the impact that the drone manufacturers anticipate. Farming techniques vary across the continent as can be seen from the adoption of the more traditional farm mechanization tools. However, we believe that the technology is on the verge of disrupting the industry, particularly in markets such as China, where they have large farms in the north on a par with those that you will find in the USA and Australia.

“Some of the changes that Ipsos Business Consulting expects the farming industry to witness within the coming years, as a result of increased adoption of commercial drones include changing farm management behavior for farmers; collect more data about our crops, yields, and soil quality; compete and disrupt existing agriculture equipment manufacturers (e.g. backpack sprayers, satellite monitoring, crop dusting and field scanning by airplanes). It could also significantly reduce the volume of crop protection chemicals being applied – impacting products by crop science companies.”

“AgDrones is a solution for unresolved resource, agroeconomic, and ecological issues faced particularly in Asia, those who adopt will be able to optimize farm input and outputs, those will not will find it difficult to complete in the future.”

DJ: What are the technological challenges for advancing drones further?

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Ipsos: “For Drone hardware: Battery life, payload, information ownership, controlling spraying during flight. For Adoption landscape: Infrastructure (access to electricity, mobile connectivity), need pilot certification and training to fly, access to repair and maintenance (durability and corrosion of drones).”

DJ: How do you see drone technology developing?

Ipsos: “We are anticipating dual-development. First, for industrialized farming industries – drones can provide precision agriculture solutions, remote sensing, and farming analytics. Second, for fragmented farming industries – drones will alleviate the basic constraints to farming (resource, cost, yield) – these challenges need to be met first, and later lead to precision agriculture farming practices.”

DJ: What other projects are you working on?

Ipsos: “We work with a wide variety of clients on their growth strategy projects. This includes their go-to-market strategy for new products and technologies as well as their business unit strategy for specific geographies. As such the exact nature of our projects is commercially sensitive and confidential (e.g. we would be fired if we breached our clients’ confidentiality requirements). That said, we are currently working on new product launches in the farm machinery and agricultural technology in Southeast Asia region, as well as go-to-market studies for local and international agrochemical companies.”

DJ: What other technologies do you see helping to change agriculture?

Ipsos: “We are expecting to see more developments in relation to analytics and information systems to provide decision support and digital farming platform for future farmers.”

DJ: Finally, what other technological trends interest you?

Ipsos: “Robotics, information and data science, drone manufacturing, hyperspectral sensors (e.g. infrared, NVDI index scanning), geofencing and controls, digital information ownership. We have published papers on 3D Printing and expect to see this technology, along with robotics and big data / connected data bringing significant disruption to our clients across many industries. Perhaps not on the scale of the industrial revolution, but certainly around that magnitude.”

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