DJI Pilot Story

DJI Agriculture Drone Pilot - A career with great potential in Ukraine.


The profession of drone pilot can be thought of as a unique career for the future and a profession in demand today. As the uses of unmanned aircraft are growing at a tremendous rate, these specialists are in greatest demand in agriculture. How much can a drone pilot in the field realistically earn, what equipment is needed, and what knowledge is required in this profession? Pavlo Laskovets will tell all.



Pavlo Laskovets



Why and how did you start working as a drone pilot?


I worked in sales and consulting for many years, and I was never involved in operating drones. I just read about the capabilities of unmanned aircraft. By chance, I saw an advertisement looking for drone pilots on the internet. I called, went for an interview, and started working. The entire IT field is undergoing rapid growth right now, and technologies in agriculture are a part of this. I'm convinced that the new technologies that are now being put into practice in agriculture will bring about a radical change in the industry's outlook and make fieldwork as efficient and effective as possible. Just this year, drones are being used to work on 4 times more fields than a year ago. Globally, UAVs are experiencing a real boom. Very recently, Elon Musk was saying that the first drones will soon be working on Mars.




Do you remember your first flight? What drone did you use?


Yes, I remember it clearly. It was very interesting and at the same time a bit unsettling. Beforehand, I spent a long time asking senior co-workers about the details and tried to prepare as much as possible for all contingencies that could theoretically occur. My first drone was the DJI Agras T16.I started with the desiccation of sunflowers and corn. In general, no tool is better than a drone for replacing traditional methods of desiccation. Usually, if the crop is tall, then a sprayer will work, but the resulting crop destruction is fairly significant; 3–7% of the harvest is lost. This is a huge amount of money per thousand hectares, and it's one of the advantages that using drones can give you.



Does using a drone really save money for agricultural producers?


Let's do the math. Over the long term, the use of drones can reduce the chemicals required per hectare by 50%.To treat crops with a desiccant spray, you need three liters of chemicals and 150–200 liters of water. For 100 ha, that's 15–20 tons of water. Spraying by drone requires only 1.5 liters of chemical and 5–6 liters of water. That's 600 liters per 100 hectares. If the field is 10,000 ha, then the savings will be 2000 cubic meters of water, which is a whole Olympic swimming pool or the monthly water consumption of eight 9-story buildings in downtown Kyiv. The savings are also obvious—you can achieve the same result or better, all while saving resources.




Do you think that a drone pilot needs an education in agriculture? What knowledge do they need?


In my opinion, I can say that it's realistically possible to work as a drone pilot without special education. For some, a couple of days of training is enough; for others, a month is not enough. It's not a question of ability, but of whether the person is able to learn from a mentor-practitioner relationship. You have to have a precise algorithm in your head to follow in a particular situation. You can read hundreds of manuals, but the practical aspect is the main thing. A drone pilot must simultaneously be an agronomist and know how to dig the right trench in a field, and a mathematician to do the required calculations.



What is the average productivity of drone operation?


 Productivity depends on three factors—the qualifications of the drone pilot, the weather, and field conditions. On average, you can treat 50 to 120 ha with one drone in one shift. A shift might last from 8 to 14 hours a day. In one hour of continuous operation, you can do about 10 ha on average. Usually, the difference in productivity is significant, but this very much depends on whether the field is flat or not, whether it's a single unit, and whether you have to move to other parcels. It's hard work if the field has a lot of posts, shrubs, trees, bogs, a complicated topography or shape, and so on. If there are a lot of small fields, then sometimes much more time is spent traveling and deploying the equipment than actually doing the work.



For comfortable, uninterrupted work, two pilots should travel to the field by bus with 12 batteries, three chargers, and three generators



What set of equipment does an pilot need for uninterrupted operation?


 A starter kit for one pilot is a drone, generator, six batteries, and a charger. As a rule, for comfortable and uninterrupted work, two pilots should travel to the field by bus with 12 batteries, three chargers, and three generators. You need a diesel generator with a power reserve. In our case, we use a 5.5 kW generator. I also recommend having a good rope and a sapper shovel in the vehicle to make sure that you don't get stuck in one of the fields.




Is it realistic to start this business yourself from scratch? How much do you need to invest in equipment, in the drone itself?


Yes, one person can do this, provided that you have the appropriate vehicle for the job. Equipment plus batteries and a generator will cost around 700,000 hryvnias. However, you must consider that a generator weighs approximately 100 kg, and you have to carry it with you all the time. From a purely physical standpoint, it's simpler for two pilots to work together, or at least a pilot and an assistant. The client covers the costs of both the work and the transport services. On average, prices are from UAH 350 or more per hectare. Consequently, you can cover the cost of the drone in 20 working days and then start making money. For example, last season I did approximately 100 shifts spraying insecticides and doing desiccation. The earnings aren't bad, but you have to consider taxes and operating risks, which are not trivial. Plus, drone operation is only permitted at night, and not everyone can physically do the work.





How much can a drone pilot make in a season, or per shift?


The pay depends on the pilot's qualifications and how the enterprise manager evaluates the work. On average, a drone pilot nets from 20 to 50 UAH per hectare. Some companies have a rotation: for example, a pilot works 15 shifts, then spends the equivalent of 15 shifts at home.



How do you find clients? Which methods are most effective?


All methods are good: cold calls, advertising, posting on the internet, and through the grapevine… you can try it all. A presentation of the services to farmers in the field works very well because the technology is relatively new and they need to see it to be convinced that it works. If an enterprise has a solid reputation and a pool of clients, then it's much easier to find new ones.



Who are the most frequent clients for these services, big agribusinesses or small farmers?


Our clients are both small, medium, and large farms and agribusinesses: from 50–80 ha and up. Small customers don't have the ability to buy a sprayer, medium ones hire someone to do the work when they can't get the sprayer to the field, and big agribusinesses don't always have enough specialists in high season. So hiring a drone pilot is an obvious gain for all farms.





This work is seasonal, so what does a drone pilot do in winter?


A drone pilot is a trained specialist in agronomy and precision agriculture who can also provide consulting and maintenance services, repair services, drone selection, and other services. So in winter, an pilot can maximize the use of their knowledge and skills and profit from it.



What is your action plan when you receive an order for drone field treatment services?


First, you need to learn about the access roads to the planned field and the high points from the farm agronomist or another official because the better you plan the flight mission, the simpler it will be. Then we go to the field, find the best point to launch the drone, and measure the length of the field. It’s best if the distance from the takeoff point to the end of the field is no more than 2 km. At that flight distance, both the drone's battery and the tank volume will be sufficient. All that's needed to plan the work for the field are the operating height, consumption per hectare, and flight width. Finally, it's time to unpack the equipment and generators and get to work. It should be noted that the weather and the conditions under which the chemicals can and can't work are very important. The agronomist gives the go-ahead for the work, but we can also exchange opinions on whether or not it's worth starting the work. All parties have an interest in making sure the work in the field goes as it should. The farm supplies the water, chemicals, and other consumables for the drones.



How do you construct a field map? How do you get around obstacles in the field?


Initially, when I didn't have the small DJI Phantom 4 RTK drone, I used the Agras T16 and I smoothed out the contours manually. If the field has obstacles like trees or posts, to avoid accidents, I set a +2-3 meter safety distance from the obstacle. If the drone flies up to it, the special radar will kick in.


The main thing that DJI provides with its Agras Т20 drones is phenomenal user-friendliness: it's very straightforward to use, which makes it popular. After all, an agro drone is a complicated vehicle that requires a skilled user, and DJI has won and retains the niche for easy-to-use drones.


The Agras Т20 can operate entirely autonomously: all you need to do is set the parameters, and the drone will operate on any type of farmland, in fields, and in orchards. Outfitted with all-around digital radar, this drone efficiently avoids obstacles during flights. In the standard configuration, the Т20 is equipped with the RTK position function and centimeter precision. This allows it to do everyday work entirely autonomously and without errors. Thanks to the advanced spray system, it faultlessly protects plants.



How do you communicate with the customer? How does the customer accept the work completed by the pilot?


I agree on the entire task list and schedule in advance with the customer. A professional drone does not miss anything during treatment, so there are no problems on that front. The wind can be a problem, so if it picks up, you either have to lower the drone or fly more slowly. No matter what you do, when the wind is strong, there will be drift, but agronomists understand this.



Farmers often say that aerial application by aircraft is better than by drone. How do you justify the choice to use a drone?


The main advantage of drone-based treatment is team mobility and treatment of hard-to-reach parts of a field. It's easy for a drone to fly in where a tractor can't go. It's quite straightforward: a drone flies 4 meters above a field, airplanes at a height of 20–30 meters, and I don't think that the people who live near the fields would be happy if the chemicals fall on their land, or, worse, on them. An airplane can't always treat every field. There aren't enough airplanes for everyone, and the minimum price of this treatment starts at UAH 500 per hectare. And that doesn't include applying the chemical and any treating gaps. I'll say one thing—over the last few years, a fifth of Ukrainian pilots in agro aviation have become drone pilots.



One way or another, fieldwork involves the use of hazardous chemicals. How do you protect yourself?


A drone pilot has significantly less contact with the chemicals than an agricultural pilot or sprayer driver. We operate the drone from the edge of the field, so we might be partially exposed to the chemical when treating nearby areas and when the chemical is poured into the drone container. Occupational health is important, so we have special masks with a respirator, gloves, and goggles.




Have you ever had a drone crash and fall apart?


No, never. But anything that flies can crash. And anyone who has said that drones can't break is wrong. Most often, drones crash because of human error. It's the same old story: the drone was assembled incorrectly, or the local area was poorly tested.



Do you ever regret becoming a drone pilot?

I don't regret it. I left my comfort zone and this gave me the opportunity to see much more than before. I not only learned about operating drones, but also about the management of global processes, soil acidification, water shortages, and much more. If we don't change our approach to farming right now, we might lose the entire sector.



What do you think is the future of drones in Ukraine?


They have a great future in this sector, and I expect drones to spread further into agricultural practices. There won't be a lot of competition—there is plenty of work for everyone. For example, just treating all of Ternopil's fields would take about 400 drones. I'd like to believe that pilots will soon be sitting in comfortable offices and operating drones autonomously.



What do you say to any budding entrepreneurs in field spraying with agro drones?


I'll quote Stephen Covey: "Begin with the end in mind." For myself I'll add: assess your strengths soberly and critically and invest correctly in training—learn only from professional practitioners who have already made mistakes in the field and are ready to share their experience. This will help you avoid errors in your own work.



For reference: Pavlo works every day to promote agro drones in farming, so he's always glad to make new acquaintances. For a consultation or to arrange cooperation, you can follow this



Source Prepared by Iryna HLOTOVA, 2021, from:

This information was taken from a webinar organized by



Related Articles

Click to explore more

DJI Pilot Story

How Drones are Making Farming More Inclusive by Reducing Labor Intensity — The Story of Ainem

DJI Pilot Story

Empowering Working Moms: Agricultural Drones Offer Flexibility for Balancing Career and Family

DJI Pilot Story

From Nurse to Agras Drone Pilot in Just One Month, Tais’s Successful Career Transition