JP Farms, the fresh produce subsidiary of the Jamaica Producers Group (JPG), has revolutionised local farming practices with the introduction of drone technology in agriculture.
Mario Figueroa, general manager of JP Farms, during a show of the equipment and tour of the St Mary-based farmlands with the Jamaica Observer last week, touted the roll-out of its two drones in agriculture as a first for the country and the rest of the Caribbean.
"What we have done through the addition of these drones is to invest more to increase our production. With increased production we will, over time, be able to develop new markets, reduce imports, and dilute costs for our customers," he told the Business Observer.
"Apart from the drones, we have also invested in new sensors to measure moisture in the ground, as well as irrigation systems that will help to make our operations more efficient," he added.
Investing approximately US$76,000, or just about $11.4 million in local currency, to secure two of the top agricultural drones, Figueroa said both, through their various functions, will significantly help to optimise farm operations — from field spraying to growth cycles and crop health and from mapping to inventory management.
The drones, named Bob and Marley, are now being operated by a team of professionals led by Mexican company Technofly, with the intention to later train locals to use the technology.
Bob, the agras T30 series drone, will help to administer precise applications of biofertiliser treatment to JP's banana and plantain crops across specific acreages, and in record time. The newest in a line of successful Agras drones, the T30 model offers the ideal solution for spraying larger fields due to its storage capacity and a flow rate of up to 50 kg per minute. This drone is said to also possess the ability to cover up to 60 hectares of land per day at 15 minutes per fly.
"It also applies the same amount of product to all the plants and proves to be much safer for our workers with less people having to be exposed to the chemicals. Using this drone is also more efficient as when we use manpower it can take up to five days to cover a specific area but with the technology we only need two days," Figueroa said.
Marley, on the other hand, though smaller in size, is a drone said to be the perfect tool for field mapping, offering quality surveillance and satellite imaging.
"This one will help us to create pictures for different areas of the farm — and we're looking to also use the technology to count our pineapples. Currently we are doing it manually and it has been very tedious. Marley will, therefore, help us with inventory, pest and disease management, and security (including praedial larceny).
"Ideally, this drone is really for information and decision-making as it helps us to identify areas having issues beforehand," said Tariq Kelly, agronomist and crop manager at JP Farms.
Satisfied with the current operations of the drones, Figueroa said there are no immediate plans to onboard more over the short term.
"To be honest, with the performance of the drones we only needed one but to cover our base, we got two. We have plans to expand the farming operations so at that time we will consider if there is a need to add more," he stated.
Currently a commercial grower of tropical produce including bananas, plantains, coconuts and pineapples, the agricultural business is now looking at other crops for cultivation on its over 500 acres of property.
"As we keep in contact with especially our export customers, we continue to assess their needs to see what we can offer. So far we've heard of yams, coconuts, among some others we are exploring and which we are not yet ready to mention," commented Gayon Douglas, marketing executive at JP Farms.