High Altitude Ag Drone Tests in Ecuador

  • October 6, 2021
  • William Payne

Agricultural drones from Chinese drone maker XAG have recently put through high altitude long distance trials in the Andes mountains of Ecuador. The trials involved on-farm crop spraying of specialty crops. The trials aimed to explore alternatives to conventional spraying and fertilising which are extremely challenging in farmland above 3,000 metres, where over half of Ecuador’s farmland lies. Difficulties with conventional farming at such altitudes has led to abandonment of farms and loss of agricultural workforce.

Smallholders and large farms are beginning to see high-precision drones as alternatives to manual labour and ground machinery. In the trials, rural youth have been trained as XAG drone pilots and abandoned farmlands have been restored to fertile soils to cultivate high altitude Ecuadorian fruits and vegetables.

Since this July, XAG’s local partner MegaDrone has been conducting drone spraying demonstrations for Andean potato farmers in the region of Carchi. The growing potato crops were evenly sprayed with minimal chemical by XAG Agricultural Drone equipped with four atomised nozzles and a 16L smart liquid tank. For most Ecuadorian farmers on scene, this was their first-time watching drone spray crops along the slopes of Andes.

The spray trials were held in Farm Hacienda la Ovejeria, which is a ten-hour drive from Ecuador’s capital, Quito.

Manual spraying and ground-based machinery are the main conventional solutions to protect food crops from pests and diseases. Though large tractors can enhance the productivity of potato farms, their weight and size make them unsuitable in the mountainous terrain while their huge tyres can damage the fragile mountain soil.

According to the test result, flying over the canopy from 2 meters above, the XAG Agricultural Drone can deliver droplets directly to the base of the potato plants without causing spray drift and soil compaction. As sustainable agricultural practices become more important in Ecuador, Andean farmers have begun to embrace farming drones to increase yield on sloped Andes farmland.

The Andean Highlands is home to over 4,000 varieties of potato, which are susceptible to weevils and tuber moth that can ruin the potato fields. In the past, potato farmers needed to spray pesticides 14 times during a growth cycle to prevent severe yield loss caused by pest hazards. Indiscriminate spray by hand or boom spray by ground machinery can lead to an overuse of pesticides, which has contaminated soil and water of the Andean mountains.

Spraying drones can be more eco-friendly and makes it easier for farmers to strike a balance of efficiency and sustainability. During the potato field demo in Farm Hacienda la Ovejeria, XAG agricultural drones achieved a 30% reduction in chemical use and a 90% water saving, allowing farmers to effectively control pests and fungal diseases with reduced environmental impact.

The farm owner, also a major potato supplier in Ecuador, has strict requirements for the quality of potato processing ingredients. It places great importance on Good Agricultural Practices to reduce yield loss and produce potatoes of high quality.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of Ecuador, a project financing of 5 million Euro has been implemented with FAO in the country to introduce technical assistance for the preservation of the Andean Landscapes.