XAG estimates it accounts for more than half of agricultural drone sales in China, serving more than 1.2 million farmers. The company has 27,000 drones in operation, most of which were sold to companies that offer pesticide-spraying services. The company made more than 100 million yuan (US$15 million) in profit last year, according to Peng Bin, founder and chief executive of XAG, one of China’s biggest makers of agricultural drones.
He discovered the potential for drone applications on a road trip through Xinjiang in 2012, when Peng saw how ageing farmers labored in vast cotton fields with heavy tanks of pesticides strapped to their backs, spraying the chemicals without any protection.
“I could smell the acrid stench of pesticide from afar and I thought maybe my unmanned aircraft could help,” Peng told Celia Chen of the South China Morning Post. “At least drone spraying would limit the farmers’ exposure to the chemicals.”
It is also more cost-effective, an important consideration for the labor-starved agricultural industry in China. In general, a drone can do the same spraying job in 1/30th the time, and the more challenging the terrain, the more advantage a drone has.