(Yicai Global) June 28 -- As the consumer unmanned aerial vehicle market declines, the industrial drones market is emerging. The agricultural UAV is developing quickly, and competition in the sector has become increasingly oligarchic.
China's largest UAV developer, Da-Jiang Innovations Science and Technology Co., said yesterday that cumulative shipments of its MG series agricultural plant protection UAVs reached more than 6,000 in June, up from 2,500 units in April 2016.
"Our agricultural plant protection drone market share is similar to that of our UAVs in other areas," said Cao Nan, DJI's global agricultural machinery sales director. DJI controls about 70 percent of the consumer UAV market.
Agricultural UAV profitability continues to be an industry challenge. "It is a big investment for the agriculture market, with a long cycle and slow returns," Cao said. "DJI's agriculture business is still supported by other DJI product lines."
Research and development and after-sales service are two of the biggest factors for success in the agricultural UAV business. "DJI began research and development for the MG-1S in 2014, and it was introduced to the market in 2016," Cao said. "Apart from making up previous R&D deficit, the company needs to continue follow-up R&D, which is relatively consuming in terms of both investment cycle and capital."
Compared with consumer UAVs, plant protection UAVs are difficult to operate and costly to maintain. UAV makers need to provide complete agricultural service systems.
"After-sales services include training, certification, customer service, operation flow optimization and channel network construction," Cao said. "Customer service is the busiest part of DJI's plant protection drone business. Even with WeChat and other new communication channels, workers are still required."
"It will take five or 10 years for the product and service systems to be well positioned and to maintain a price acceptable to users, so we need to be patient," he said.
Pesticide spraying technology is poised to become important in the commercial UAV industry and chemical companies including the Dow Chemical Co. [NYSE:DOW], EI du Pont de Nemours and Co. [NYSE:DD] and BASF SE [FWB:BAS] have used aircrafts to deploy crop protection.
UAVs will be a new direction for agricultural equipment development, said Zhu Yue, general manager of Dow AgroSciences in China. Comprehensive assessments of application environments can help determine the necessary operating speed and sprayer settings for UAVs by taking things like wind speed into account, he said.
Dow AgroSciences has cooperated with DJI in pesticide testing, product applications, technology promotion and other areas, and plans to run experiments in major Chinese agriculture provinces including Heilongjiang, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui and Jiangxi to test UAV-sprayed Dow AgroSciences fungicide, insecticide and herbicide products so that spray modes, pesticide formulations and dosages can be optimized.