Robotics & AI company – XAG – is one of the world’s leading agri-drone manufacturers – their flying machines can sow seeds, spray crops, and spread fertilisers. Since 2020 the Chinese technology firm has been developing closer ties with Ukrainian farmers in an effort to tap into what it considers a fast growing commercial opportunity. With very limited drone regulations and new land ownership reforms pending, XAG believes a new generation of tech savvy small-holders will embrace its drone technology in Ukraine.
In 2020 XAG began collaborating with Ukraine’s DroneUA to distribute its agricultural drones and robots. Last month (April 2021), with cooperation from one of Ukraine’s largest agricultural holdings – ‘Agro-Region’, the DroneUA team held a practical demonstration to evaluate the effectiveness of XAG Agricultural Drones on winter barley fields near the village of Velyka Oleksandrivka in the Kyiv region.XAG reports that the demo showed one of its drones, when equipped with atomised sprayers and a 20L smart liquid tank, is capable of covering over 16 hectares of crops per hour. The Ukrainian Agribusiness Club (UCAB) confirmed the result which would make XAG’s drone a higher performing drone than any currently in use on Ukrainian farms.
Autonomous swarm spraying flights that reduce chemical use
During the demonstration, one operator, along with two outside observers, controlled three XAG agricultural drones to apply crop protection products using ‘swarm flight mode’. 43 hectares of barley were treated fully autonomously by this small fleet of drones in 53 minutes. Unlike large trailed and self-propelled tractors drones can get into hard-to-reach areas, reduce the use of pesticides and avoid mechanical damage on crops.
“I have never evaluated a drone as an industrial tool for spraying before, but after this test which shows strong productivity, the introduction of agricultural drones makes a lot of sense” said Volodymyr Kravtsov, Operational Director of Agro-Region.
Replacing outdated machinery is a big opportunity for XAG
According to its Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture, Ukraine ranked second among the world’s grain exporters in 2020 with an overall grain export totalling 55.09 million tonnes. Many Ukrainian farmers and agribusinesses however, still rely on outdated farm machinery which limits productivity. According to Ukraine’s International Trade Administration, the operational need for agricultural machinery and equipment of Ukraine could be worth $20 billion by 2025.
In 2020, the Ukrainian government passed a new land reform law which puts an end to an old moratorium on the sale of arable land – over the past twenty years, farmers and agricultural businesses have only been able only grow crops if they own a land lease. However, beginning in July 2021, agricultural land will be available for sale to all Ukrainian citizens. XAG believe this will encourage farmers to increase their grain planting areas and invest in innovative agricultural machinery and infrastructure.
Financing and training the next generation of tech savvy farmers
While Ukraine is about to embrace the opening of the land market, both a new financing policy and an education program are also being implemented to scale up the use of drones in agriculture.
Under the support of DroneUA, XAG drones will become the first agricultural drone that can be leased with full insurance coverage in Ukraine. This will make drones more affordable to small-holders who are an important part of Ukraine’s total farming output – small-holders generate nearly 45% of the country’s gross agricultural volume.
According to Valerii Iakovenko, Co-founder of DroneUA, a new partnership with the National University of Life and Environmental Sciences of Ukraine (NULES) will also see new courses delivered on unmanned spraying solutions to teach bachelor students how to use XAG agricultural drones.
Up to December 2020, XAG’s smart agriculture technologies and solutions have reached 42 countries and regions, serving 9.31 million farmers and 52 million hectares of farmlands. With autonomous farms just over the horizon, XAG expects to add a new influx of young Ukrainian farmers to their customer base.