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27 May 2024 | Story Martinette Brits | Photo Martinette Brits
Drone Launch 2024
Rectron donates the DJI Agras T40 drone to the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences at UFS. From the left: Kutlwano Rawana, Musktek Group HR Executive, Spencer Chen, Rectron Chief Executive Officer, Prof Johan van Niekerk, Vice-Dean of Agriculture and Liezl Beneke, Rectron Bloemfontein Branch Manager.

The recent addition of a state-of-the-art agricultural drone at the Paradys Experimental Farm marks a significant advancement in equipping students from the University of the Free State (UFS) with the modern skills required to thrive in the agriculture industry.

Prof Johan van Niekerk, Vice-Dean of Agriculture, emphasises the transformative potential of the DJI Agras T40 drone, generously donated by Rectron, a leading provider of agricultural technology. “Integrating cutting-edge tools into our curriculum allows us to provide students with invaluable hands-on experience in using drones for agricultural purposes,” he states.

The unveiling ceremony took place at the Paradys Experimental Farm, located just outside Bloemfontein on the road to Reddersburg, on Friday, 24 May. The drone, featuring the revolutionary Coaxial Twin Rotor design, boasts an impressive capacity with a spray load of 40 litres and a spread load of 50 kg. Its efficiency enables it to cover up to 21.3 hectares per hour, significantly enhancing productivity. Moreover, it supports a variety of missions including surveying, mapping, spraying, and spreading, ensuring precision in agricultural operations.

Prof Paul Oberholster, Dean of the Faculty of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, highlights the importance of aligning educational programmes with industry needs. “Our goal is to produce graduates who are not only ready for the workplace but are also trained in the latest agricultural technologies. Collaborations with industry partners bring these technologies to the Paradys Experimental Farm, ensuring our students are highly employable. South African agriculture must adapt to the changing environment and play a pivotal role in global food and nutrition security,” he explains.

Drones revolutionise farming operations

The integration of drone technology in agriculture represents a significant leap forward in managing and monitoring farming operations. Dr Christopher Rothmann, Innovation Manager of the Paradys Experimental Farm, outlines the numerous benefits of this technology. “Drones transform traditional farming into a more precise, efficient, and sustainable practice. By leveraging advanced drone capabilities, farmers can achieve better resource management, higher productivity, and a reduced environmental footprint, ultimately leading to more resilient and profitable agricultural operations,” he says.

Dr Rothmann also notes the practical advantages of drone technology, such as applying necessary fertiliser and other chemicals without the need for a tractor, which is especially beneficial when the fields are too wet to enter. “Additionally, drones can perform spot spraying treatments of pesticides and fertilisers, reducing agricultural runoff and chemical drift, which benefits nearby crops and the soil,” he adds.

Enhancing research capabilities

Prof van Niekerk underscores the enhanced research capabilities that agricultural drones bring to UFS programmes. “Our researchers can explore topics such as precision agriculture, crop monitoring, soil analysis, and pest management with greater accuracy and efficiency. This leads to valuable insights that benefit the agriculture industry and promote sustainable practices,” he states.

Dr Rothmann further emphasises the streamlined data collection processes and opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration and professional development that drones facilitate. “Using drones fosters real-world applications, community engagement, sustainability, and innovation, aligning with the university's goals of excellence, relevance, and societal impact in agriculture,” he notes.

Industry partnerships vital for advancing agricultural education

Dr Rothmann highlights the critical role of industry partnerships in advancing education and ensuring the relevance of agricultural programmes at UFS. Collaborations like this one with Rectron and DJI provide students with practical, hands-on experiences, align the curriculum with current industry trends, and enhance world-class research opportunities by accessing the latest technologies and insights,” he says.

He also points out that these partnerships promote sustainable practices and extend the university’s social impact by addressing issues like food security and rural development. “Ultimately, these collaborations help position the university as a global leader in agricultural education and research,” he concluded.  

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