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31 July


China use drones in agriculture

The need for drone pilots is increasing in the country

Photo: Синьхуа

/NOVOSTIVL/ Zhu Beibei still remembers the acrid stench of rubber tyres even though it has been 10 years since he worked at a small car manufacturer in Wuhan in central China. Then 19, it was his first job out of technical school. He was paid 900 yuan (US$134) a month and there was a lot of overtime. He quit after six months. This article appeared in the South China Morning Post.

"I had to wake up at 2pm and work until at least 10am," Zhu, now 29, said in an interview. "Every day I worked like a robot and did not have much time to talk with each other. I did not see any chance of promotion or to improve my skills."

After he left, he bounced around various jobs, including selling farm produce, before a friend asked him if he had ever flown a drone. He had not, but became a certified drone pilot after five days of training and joined a pesticide-spraying drone company.

Today, Zhu has his own company with a team of 30 drone pilots and he pulls in 3 million yuan (US$45,000) a year helping farmers in China spray weed killer.

Not bad for a farmer’s son, whose mother rebuked him for quitting the factory job, which came with retirement benefits. He won her over after earning 80,000 yuan in 45 days working drones in Xinjiang, a major cotton- and fruit-producing region in the country’s northwest.

Demand for agricultural drone pilots has risen as the technology matures, enabling a skilled operator to cover more acreage than human effort ever could. It is also driven ironically by the shortage of manpower in the countryside.