Rectron has made a R351 000 drone system donation to the University of the Free State’s Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences.

The investment seeks to enhance the institution’s ability to unlock a myriad smart farming solutions through drone training, licensing and ongoing compliance.

“More than a once-off project, this marks the latest in a wider series of strategic and ongoing investments into Southern Africa’s drone technological capacity and best practice,” says Spencer Chen, Rectron CEO.

“The DJI Agras T40 drone we acquired for the University offers the most advanced, high-quality precision aerial capabilities to start making a positive impact in the Free State’s agricultural sector, which we have recognised as vital South African food security.”

The Ministry of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development estimates that agriculture accounts for 90 % of land use in the Free State, with field crops yielding almost two-thirds, animal products contributing a further 30%, and the balance generated by horticulture into the gross agricultural income of the province.

Agriculture contributes around 9% of the Free State’s gross domestic product, which contributes the second largest portion of revenue from agriculture for the country.

While it trails the Western Cape by size, the Free State is the fastest growing, producing 43,7% of the country’s maize, 18% of grain sorghum, 40% of groundnuts, 56% of sunflowers, 28,5% of dry beans, and 46,8% of soybeans, making it the country’s breadbasket.

This means it is that much more critical that the province’s long-term sustainability and growth is secured through greater efficiencies, soil health preservation and a better response to disease, pests and unstable climate conditions.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research sees the use of commercial drones and smart farming techniques as keys to the effective management of farming operations at all scales in the response to volatile weather events, dry seasons and swarms of pests, such as the devasting locust infestation of the 2021/22 summer season.

As such, the global drone market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 25% between 2022 and 2031, driven primarily by sectors like agriculture.

“Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (AUVs) equipped with advance sensors and imaging technology can be quickly, easily and accurately deployed over vast territories of land (including those inaccessible by foot or vehicles) by license drone pilots,” says Ruan Botha, Rectron product manager. “Data collected can then be used to generate detailed reports on soil health, topography, animal movement and a host of other conditions in real time, informing more targeted interventions.”