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Technology Drones That Do the Work of 500 Farmers Are Transforming Palm Oil

00:30  19 november  2019
00:30  19 november  2019 Source:   bloomberg.com

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With oil - palm plantations spread across some 22.3 million hectares (86,100 square miles) of Malaysia and Indonesia -- an area almost the size of the U.K That makes them an efficiency-boosting boon for the palm oil industry. A single drone can capture images of about 2, 500 hectares of oil palms a day

Drones that can offer longer flight time and longer range are relatively costlier. Buying drone that does not come equipped with the necessary equipment could be cheaper. The use of drones for agriculture purposes is considered commercial. This means the farmer needs to undergo FAA

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As haze blanketed large tracts of Southeast Asia last month, office workers with Genting Plantations Bhd. in Jakarta were investigating the source of the choking smoke more than a thousand kilometers away.

Images collected from drones flying up to 400 meters (about 1,300 feet) above Genting’s oil palms help the company spot fires in remote and inaccessible areas. It’s part of a technology drive catapulting palm oil, the world’s most-consumed vegetable oil, from dependence on manual labor to becoming one of the fastest-growing markets for commercial unmanned aircraft.

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Processing oil palm fruits for edible oil has been practiced in Africa for thousands of years, and the oil produced, highly coloured and flavoured, is an essential ingredient in much of the traditional West African cuisine. Large-scale farms cover an area in excess of 500 hectares.

A palm oil worker in Riau province in Indonesia’s Sumatra island. With governments keen to continue granting palm oil companies large-scale concessions across Africa, the race to Campaign group Mighty Earth says aerial drones , satellite imaging and field research show farmers carried out

a group of palm trees next to a tree: Business Booms for Drones as Oil-Palm Farmers Go Hi-Tech© Bloomberg Business Booms for Drones as Oil-Palm Farmers Go Hi-Tech

A drone flies over the palm trees at the Genting Tanah Merah Estate on Nov 14.

Photographer: Joshua Paul/Bloomberg

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The farmer can control all this remotely: checking yields and production mechanics on an iPad and needing to attend the dairy only in case of a Will the farms of the near future be characterised by driverless tractors and harvesters, and an array of robots carrying out various tasks instead of humans?

UK farming conference hears how 'farmbots' will bring efficiencies and benefits and an end to back-breaking tasks.

“We monitor satellite images twice a day and if there are any hot-spots near our boundaries, we’ll alert the plantation to take action,” said Narayanan Ramanathan, Genting’s senior vice president of plantation advisory. “If it’s too far away and we can’t access it by road, we’ll send a drone to check.”

With oil-palm plantations spread across some 22.3 million hectares (86,100 square miles) of Malaysia and Indonesia -- an area almost the size of the U.K., the industry represents fertile ground for drone sales.

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Small farmers could be key actors in reforming Indonesia's palm oil industry, which has been linked to child and forced labor, deforestation and the demise of iconic species like orangutans. How they transform is an important indicator of the sustainability of the palm oil industry as a whole.

Oil palm is still fairly new to the area and most farmers do not have the knowledge necessary to produce high quality crop, nor do they have the capital to Another issue is that contracts are drawn in complicated legal jargon and most farmers do not fully read the contacts, and those that do are often

Agricultural industries accounted for more than a quarter of the $2.67 billion in commercial drone sales in 2016, according to Allied Market Research. Demand will expand about 22% a year, reaching $2.44 billion by 2022, it says.

‘Huge Potential’

“In the coming years, use of commercial drones in palm oil plantations is poised to show huge potential,” Yash Doshi, who tracks the aerospace and defense sector for Allied Market Research in Pune, India, said in an email.

That’s partly due to growing awareness about sustainable farming and precision agriculture, as well as government programs, greater use of smartphones, and new “smart” technologies.

Worldwide drone sales to agricultural businesses could top $8 billion by 2026, according to Selbyville, Delaware-based Market Study Report LLC.

Business Booms for Drones as Oil-Palm Farmers Go Hi-Tech© Bloomberg Business Booms for Drones as Oil-Palm Farmers Go Hi-Tech

A drone flies at a plantation.

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Palm oil producers backed by the UN taken to court by evicted farmers who say they have received little compensation.

Palm oil , produced from the oil palm , is a basic source of income for many farmers in South East Asia, Central and West Africa, and Central America. It is locally used as a cooking oil , exported for use in many commercial food and personal care products and is converted into biofuel.

Photographer: Joshua Paul/Bloomberg

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Here, oil palm plantations were cultivated on land already degraded as small farmers sought a more profitable crop. But a volatile market and a deadly “Those who carry all the weight is the farmer ,” said Jurado, who in addition to farming oil palm also works another a full-time job in a neighboring city as

Palm oil comes from the fruit of the oil palm tree, and because it's high in saturated fat, some experts say it's bad for you. Find out what. " Palm oil is also used for cooking because of its high smoke point,” says Michaelczyk, which means it's better suited for cooking foods at high temperatures.

Besides spotting fires, drones are capable of collecting data that can be used to decide if crops have enough water and nutrients, and even to find leakages in irrigation systems. That makes them an efficiency-boosting boon for the palm oil industry.

A single drone can capture images of about 2,500 hectares of oil palms a day, while a human can cover only 5 hectares, said William Tao, chief operating officer at Hong Kong-based Insight Robotics Ltd., which provides drone-based services as well as remote sensing technologies and AI analytic tools to Southeast Asian palm growers.

Snakes, Scorpions

Workers had traditionally trudged in the tropical heat through dense grass and sometimes hilly terrain inhabited by snakes and scorpions to monitor plantations by sight. The vast size of plantations and the potential for human error can result in unreliable data.

a person standing next to a palm tree in a forest: Business Booms for Drones as Oil-Palm Farmers Go Hi-Tech© Bloomberg Business Booms for Drones as Oil-Palm Farmers Go Hi-Tech

A worker carries a harvesting sickle at a plantation.

Photographer: Joshua Paul/Bloomberg

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Palm oil is highly versatile and is a key ingredient in snack foods, cosmetics, and cleaning products — this vegetable oil is in over half the products sold in supermarkets, meaning it’s in pretty much everything In Indonesia companies drain carbon rich peatland forests to create palm oil plantations.

There are few viable alternatives to palm oil . Despite concerns about its sustainability, it is still cost effective and a major income source for developing countries.

Even where the data are collected using drones, many plantation owners are analyzing the images using artificial intelligence-based systems, Tao said. The use of such tools means images spanning 10,000 hectares can be reviewed by a computer in 4 hours instead of the 14 days or more that it would take 20 people ordinarily, he said.

The technology is especially helpful in assessing the environmental impact of palm oil and their association with rainforest destruction implicated in the choking haze that routinely afflicts the region.

Read More: Why It’s Another Bad Year for Indonesia Forest Fires

“This is a hot topic now,” Genting’s Narayanan said. Malaysia’s fourth largest-listed plantation owner by market value, owns about 20 drones, and uses the services of other providers to monitor and map about 160,000 hectares of oil palms in Indonesia and Malaysia.

The aerial devices use high-resolution cameras that snap thousands of pictures for assembling composite pictures, which are then used to count trees and map estates. Genting is also weighing multispectral cameras to monitor palm health and detect pests. Smaller, more nimble drones are used for surveillance, especially of flood and fire in hard-to-reach areas.

Genting also uses satellites for mapping and surveillance, and is looking to artificial intelligence to analyze those images for more accurate feedback on tree health, yield potential, and nutrient status, Narayanan said.

DJI wants to let anyone with a smartphone monitor nearby drones

  DJI wants to let anyone with a smartphone monitor nearby drones The new app will be released in 2020The tracking technology will be made available to the public via a smartphone app, DJI said. Using only Wi-Fi, a person could use the app to identify a nearby drone’s identification number, as well as location, altitude, speed, and direction of the drone. The application could be made available in 2020, pending regulatory approval. The Chinese company said the purpose of the new technology was “enhanced safety, security and peace of mind.

Since oil palms need a rainforest climate – consistently high humidity and temperatures – and a lot of land, plantations are often established at the expense of rainforests. Uniform oil palm monocultures have a very low level of biodiversity and are no comparison to the richness of a rainforest.

a group of palm trees next to a tree: Business Booms for Drones as Oil-Palm Farmers Go Hi-Tech© Bloomberg Business Booms for Drones as Oil-Palm Farmers Go Hi-Tech

A vehicle drives along a road at Genting’s plantation.

Photographer: Joshua Paul/Bloomberg

‘Next Big Thing’

Agriculture has been an important market for the past couple of years, according to Aerodyne Group, the world’s third-largest drone-services provider. The Kuala Lumpur-based company gets most of its revenue from construction, but expects the proportion of sales to plantation owners to increase beyond the current 10%, Chief Executive Officer Kamarul Azman said in an interview.

“Agriculture is the next big thing for us,” Kamarul said. “We do know that the market is increasing. We’re focusing more on it.”

The increasing demand for unmanned aerial vehicles may reflect the need to improve efficiency in the wake of lower crude palm oil prices, he said.

“Plantation companies are very traditional,” Kamarul said, adding that they have a tendency to be “a little bit slow” in adopting new technology. “Everyone is clamoring to save costs and increase their efficiency.”

Business Booms for Drones as Oil-Palm Farmers Go Hi-Tech© Bloomberg Business Booms for Drones as Oil-Palm Farmers Go Hi-Tech

A grabber prepares to pick a fruit bunch.

Photographer: Joshua Paul/Bloomberg

Other technology is also poised to accelerate the palm oil industry’s modernization.

Genting is exploring the use of remote sensors, robotic equipment, and autonomous vehicles to direct precise amounts of fertilizer to specific sites. That will avoid less-effiicient blanket applications, Narayanan said.

Business Booms for Drones as Oil-Palm Farmers Go Hi-Tech© Bloomberg Business Booms for Drones as Oil-Palm Farmers Go Hi-Tech

An aerial photo of Genting’s plantation in Johor.

Photographer: Joshua Paul/Bloomberg

There’s “vast potential” for the industry to take up new technology, especially to help with harvesting and field maintenance, as labor and land become increasingly scarce, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Anuradha Raghu in Kuala Lumpur at araghu3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anna Kitanaka at akitanaka@bloomberg.net, Jason Gale

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

DJI wants to let anyone with a smartphone monitor nearby drones .
The new app will be released in 2020The tracking technology will be made available to the public via a smartphone app, DJI said. Using only Wi-Fi, a person could use the app to identify a nearby drone’s identification number, as well as location, altitude, speed, and direction of the drone. The application could be made available in 2020, pending regulatory approval. The Chinese company said the purpose of the new technology was “enhanced safety, security and peace of mind.

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