IRRI, PhilRice unveil drone protocols to enhance rice farming

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice) have launched a new project that aims to improve rice farmers’ productivity and sustainability by utilizing drone technology. 

In a statement on Monday, April 22, IRRI and PhilRice said their project, Drones4Rice, plans to develop standardized protocols for drone applications of seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides for rice production in the Philippines.

“Drones serve various agricultural purposes, including irrigation planning, crop health monitoring, damage assessment, soil health analysis, and fertilizer and pesticide application,” IRRI stated.

By optimizing protocols and streamlining regulations, IRRI and PhilRice said it is expected to facilitate the private sector in scaling affordable drone services for farmers.. 

“The project also plans to set up a drone-based system to monitor crops, and map weeds and nutrient levels in rice fields to develop a new method for adjusting nutrient and weed management during the growing season, as well as scaling up sustainable drone-based precision farming technologies and finding ways to adopt them widely at the farm cluster level,” IRRI reported.

To further ensure reliability, the drones have advanced sensors that could optimize resource management and minimize labor costs.

Labor cost is one of the challenges faced in the local rice production cost as it consists third of the total rice production expenses. IRRI and PhilRice believe that enhanced mechanization would lower the prices while simultaneously allowing farmers to be more productive.

IRRI senior scientist Stephen Klassen shared that drone technology could be used for precision agriculture as this could lead to higher yields while being cost-efficient.

Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary for Rice Industry Development Christopher Morales also stated the importance of drone technology as “this emphasizes the rice industry’s need to adapt to emerging trends and technologies, with digital transformation being a key strategy of the Masagana Rice Industry Development Program. It is crucial for our industry to stay current.”

The project will be institutionalized with the financial help of the DA-National Program through the Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR).

Other DA-attached agencies and bureaus, the DA regional offices, the private sector, and the regulatory agencies will partner up for the drone project.

Agricultural drones are currently being utilized as part of farm mechanization in China and Japan, while Thailand, Indonesia, and Vietnam are also keeping up.

As of now, the Philippines is at its early stages, while its existing partnerships would expedite this technology to small rice farms.