The Indian government has launched a collaborative research project involving use of drone technology in farming sector for assessing quality of soil and compensation for losses due to flood, the Ministry of Agriculture said in a Lok Sabha query. The project aims to implement Hyperspectral Remote Sensing using drone systems and developing a locally researched prototype for soil health monitoring and integrating it with satellites for large scale agricultural applications in the future.

Drones will soon be seen scouting over farm fields in India, gathering required geographical data using sensors, pictures, etc. and transmitting such information in real time. This technology will be used primarily in farming sector at regional/local levels for assessing land and crop health; extent, type and severity of damage, issuing forewarning, and settlement of compensation under crop insurance schemes.

The project which is dubbed as “SENSAGRI: Sensor based Smart Agriculture” is formed by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) involving six partner institutes, and will be funded by the government of India, Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DEITY), Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Information Technology Research Academy (ITRA), and ICSR as well.

Use of drones in agriculture

In February, Weather forecasting company Skymet in partnership with Agriculture Insurance Company (AIC) had earlier conducted a pilot in Gujarat and Rajasthan, which involved use of drones for surveying farmer’s crops, helping them map crop diseases along with assistance for insurance companies in settling claims, as indicated by Economic Times. Earlier in 2014, Skymet, AIC and the Gujarat government implemented satellite remote sensing technologies and drones across 10 villages in Morbi district of Gujarat, the report added.

Interestingly, Drone-tech startup Aarav Unmanned Systems which had raised an undisclosed amount funding in April provides crop monitoring, assessment, analysis and other agricultural and industrial applications for the general public. Apart from this, Chennai based ZUPPA provides farm, irrigation, and crop monitoring through use of drones and aerial mapping.

Drone policy in India

In May, the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had released a draft paper (pdf) with guidelines for obtaining a Unique Identification Number (UIN) and permission to fly a civil unmanned aircraft system (UAS). The DGCA cited increasing civil use of UAS for damage assessment of property and life in areas with natural calamities, for surveys, infrastructure monitoring, commercial photography, aerial mapping etc., as reasons for the requirement of guidelines. More here

In March, the Government of India had amended the Customs Baggage Declaration regulations to make it mandatory (pdf) to declare drones in customs forms, for people coming to India. On declaration, users will need to report to the customs officer at the Red Channel counter and are liable to pay duty on the item. The regulation will come into force on the 1st of April.

Other agricultural projects by government

Online trading for farmers: In April, the government launched an online trading platform for farmers, connecting them to a network of wholesale agricultural markets. The platform is an extension of National Agricultural Market (NAM) scheme, which was first approved in July 2015 with a Rs 200 crore budget.

AGMARKNET Scheme: The AGMARKNET initiative is being directed by the Ministry of Agriculture. It has already computerized a number of mandis, providing daily mandi rates through its online website. It also introduced two mobile apps—Kisan Suvidha & AgriMarket, which helps farmers procure information on crop insurance and prices of agricultural commodities.

Image Credit: Flickr user Michael MK Khor under CC BY 2.0