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Drone usage taking off on UK farms

Cathrine Drew in Bedfordshire


New regulations in the UK have cleared the way for the spraying of a pesticide by agricultural drones, with one Chinese drone manufacturer saying it's poised to help meet British government targets.

Guangzhou-based XAG has been showing its P100 spraying drone at Cereals, the annual UK show dedicated to crop farming. It spent three years trying to break into the market, knowing a welcome by UK authorities would help ease their entry into Western Europe, particularly agricultural heavyweights France and Germany.

"UK market is very important, because it's not only for the UK, but also for the whole of Europe," Ton Wei, XAG's Head of Global Affairs, tells CGTN Europe. "Because for the neighboring countries, actually they keep a close eye on the developments in British markets, not only for the regulations, but also other scenarios."

After a report showed the wider use of drones (mainly accounting for their use for parcel and food deliveries) could contribute $55 billion to the UK economy by 2030, while cutting 2.4 million tonnes of carbon emissions and creating 650 thousand new jobs, the British government has got behind them.

UK farmers can now apply for a 60 percent grant towards the cost, while regulators have also cleared the spraying of a commonly used pesticide – slug pellets, with other chemical permissions expected to follow very soon.

XAG's UK partner says months of wet weather has also prompted British farmers to look to drones. "They can lose their entire crop to slugs because they can't get onto treat them at the right time and it is about doing it at the right time," Rob Pearson, CEO of Auto Spray Systems tells CGTN Europe. "Slugs come out when it's wet, tractors can't get on fields when it's wet."

Pearson has seen sales in the P100 drone rise from just six last year to 12 this month.

The changes and incentives are leading to a growing number of operators investing in the drones to offer Uber-style services in green house painting, seeding and now spraying chemicals.

"Farmers are still sort of cautious but they're great takers up of technology when they need to," said David Exwood, Deputy President of the National Farmers Union. 

"If we target pesticides, apply them in more targeted way, we're going to dramatically reduce usage, we're going to reduce our carbon footprint. If we can do it through electrically drive drones, it's going to change everything."

Having cleared regulatory hurdles to fly and now spray chemicals, the Guangzhou-based company says it hopes to replicate the success it's seen in Asia, in Western Europe.

Drone usage taking off on UK farms

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