As a more cost-effective tool, agricultural drones have become a new favorite of Vietnamese farmers who grow rice.
Drones can spray pesticides, spread fertilisers and sow seeds directly by using a mobile phone to operate them.
Their versatile applications and full automation are reshaping how rice is farmed, helping growers reduce labour costs, cut down the use of agricultural inputs and improve yields.
Le Thanh Nguyen, a 62 year-old farmer who was born and raised in Tam Nong District of Dong Thap Province in the Mekong Delta bordering Cambodia, now works his seven hectares of rice with drones made by agricultural drone specialists, XAG.
Although Mr Nguyen has been farming in a traditional way for over 40 years since he was 15 years old, he’s very much open to the new technology.
He is one of the earliest farmers to adopt agricultural drones in rice production and is a dedicated follower of drone solutions for farming.
Vietnam is the world’s second largest rice exporter with 6.24 million tons exported in 2021, making great progress on productivity and output of late.
However, urbanisation and the rising price of fertilisers continues to heap pressure on farmers as they try to cope with a lack of labour and increasing production costs.
As a result, some rice growers have decided to cut the scale of their rice farming practices.
Like many others, Mr Nguyen used to have difficulties hiring workers for manual jobs.
During the busy rice season, farm workers were required to work in the early morning to sow seedlings, but often they arrived in the late afternoon.
By that time, the seeds had germinated, and the shoots were easily broken during spreading and, therefore, resulted in a loss of yield.
Even when workers did come on time, Mr Nguyen still wasn’t satisfied with the result of seeding by hand or by spreader, they were far from precise and didn’t allow ideal plant density.
Examples like this have urged farmers like Mr Nguyen to find solutions, of which the use of drones has been one.
In 2021, when he first learned about the agricultural drone during a family trip, Mr Nguyen decided to gather more information about the machine.
After XAG’s local partner DigiDrone gave Mr Nguyen a full introduction to and trial of the drone’s functions, Mr Nguyen decided to use a drone on his farm.
In the Mekong Delta, rice is planted and harvested three times a year.
Traditionally, rice farming relies on pesticides at different stages to ensure rice is protected from pests and diseases, while fertiliser and nutrient solutions in high amounts are required to boost crop growth.
Rice growing requires a considerable investment in not only agricultural materials, but also manual labour.
Mr Nguyen now uses the XAG drone for crop spraying, spreading fertiliser and seeding, which turns out to be more precise and better at distributing it on crops and ultimately leading to higher rice yields.
“The drone eases the burden and greatly improves efficiency,” says Mr Nguyen. “In the past, I had to pay four workers to carry and spread one ton of fertiliser on my field from 6am to 2pm, and they were exhausted as a result.
“Now with the latest XAG P100 agricultural drone, fertilising one ton only takes an hour to finish with even spreading results,” he says.
In addition to efficiency, what drove Mr Nguyen to adopt drone technology is the reduction in costs. He explained that ordering drone services from the local team offers more value for money than hiring workers. This not only helps him save considerable on the cost of manual labor, including wages, meal allowances and transportation. It also greatly reduces the quantity of crop inputs, such as seeds.
“For one hectare of rice, it only takes 120kg of seed to sow by drone, but 150kg to 200kg is usually needed for the same yield.
“In addition, spreading by hand or by traditional machinery is likely to result in crop damage and a wastage of seeds, leading to a loss in yield and profits,” says Mr Nguyen.
As agricultural drones from XAG gain more attention in Vietnam, the number of farmers using drones for autonomous operations is increasing.
Their efficiency, precision, and cost-saving technology, along with the quality of the service, will be key for drones to gain greater popularity in rural areas in Vietnam.