The National Centre for Precision Farming (NCPF) at Harper Adams University has teamed up with XAG, one of the world’s largest drone and robotics companies.

The Chinese firm, which was founded in 2007, focuses on agricultural automation and research and development of unmanned devices.

Over a period of 12 months, XAG crop-spraying drones have flown 1.7 million times and served more than 700,000 Chinese farmers covering two million hectares of land.

Justin Gong, co-founder and vice president of XAG, said: “As the strategic partnership has been officially established, I am sincerely looking forward to the collaborations between XAG and Harper Adams University to develop localised done and robotic solutions which suit the UK and European farmers.

“We hope our technology can equally serve UK and European farmers, to help them improve productivity.”

The equipment uses sensors mounted on the drones to monitor the condition of the crop and subsequently only applying the chemical precisely on area requiring treatment.

“In addition, we would like to devote more on researching about AI technologies and ground-based robots to free farmers’ hands, also to accelerate the popularisation of drone application,” Gong added.

“With Harper Adams’ research strengths on agriculture and sustainable farming, I believe we can make the most of our potentials.”

Parmjit Chima, head of engineering at Harper Adams, added: “It’s great to see the university being recognised as a leader in agricultural drone and robotics technology by XAG in this mutually beneficial collaboration to develop new agri-tech solutions for farmers both at a national and international level.”

Making a case for spraying drones in the UK

Harper Adams research support and project lead, Debbie Heeks said: “At present, UK legislation does not permit the use of drones for crop spraying.

“However, Harper is working closely with the relevant authorities, such as CAA and others to enable trials involving drones for the first time in the country.

“At the recent Agricultural Innovation Conference and Exhibition, XAG donated a high specification agricultural spraying drone to Harper. The P20 2018 Plant Protection UAS, named Barbara, is a fully autonomous system.

“It’s a very clever system and it’s very exciting that we have the opportunity to work with it and XAG.

“We hope that our work with the system will help strengthen the case for using crop spraying drones in the UK.”