Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Wheat Sprayers From Outer Space

Unmanned aircraft that spray pesticides are the latest thing in Chinese agriculture. In Hebei Province's Zhao County, an extension worker scouts the wheat fields for pests and sends a gizmo that looks like a space ship over the fields to spray them with insecticides.

The head of Hebei Province's plant protection station says that all localities have invested in unmanned aircraft sprayers and other mechanized pesticide application equipment this year. In a 6-to-8 hour day the aircraft can spray 300-400 mu (50-65 acres), what would normally take 20-80 people. He claims it also improves the effective utilization of pesticide by 30 percent. It reduces exposure of people to toxic pesticides and doesn't damage the crop by driving machines through the field.
In recent years, China's Ministry of Agriculture has featured an annual "one spray, three preventions" campaign as a measure to prevent pest damage to the wheat crop. The bug spray program is financially supported as part of its disaster prevention program. The government has given farmers subsidies for supplies for the pesticide-spraying program of 5 yuan per mu (about $5 per acre), a total of 181 million yuan ($29 million) for the province. In Hebei, the plant protection chief says they're spraying the wheat crop from south to north to kill bugs and ensure a good harvest.

A machinery cooperative in a county of Shandong Province has bought two unmanned aircraft sprayers whch the cooperative head says has improved efficiency of insecticide application. The head of the local agricultural machinery bureau said the aircraft can spray 16 mu (2 acres) in 8 minutes, a job that would usually take 50 people. The machines cost 200,000 yuan ($32,000) each.

Wages in China are now about 100 yuan per day, so it could cost 5000 yuan to hire 50 people for a day. At that rate, the bug spray aircraft would pay for itself after seven days. Agriculture was once a labor-intensive activity in China but soaring wages are inducing the adoption of the same capital-intensive methods used in developed countries...that is, by organizations in model counties that are handed government subsidies or bank loans.