Drone piloting has become a new source of income for 41-year-old Xin Jianying, a villager in east China's Jiangxi Province, who has only a primary school education.
During the season for spraying pesticides in rice paddy fields, Xin said many farmers from her village and surrounding areas have requested her services.
The rural cooperative at Shandi village arranged one month of training for residents. At the end of the training Xin outperformed her neighbors in a competition to select 12 drone pilots.
"Drone operation requires both good eyesight and sound hand-eye coordination," said the mother of two boys, whose husband left the village as a migrant worker.
Each drone can carry 10 kg of pesticide and cover a hectare of rice paddies in half an hour, while a manual laborer would take five hours to complete the same amount of work.
Last year, Yujiang County was one of the first areas in Jiangxi to promote the use of drones to help solve the rural labor shortage.
Xin stands on the ridge overlooking the fields controlling the drone. She said aerial spraying is more effective than manual spraying, as the pesticide can be more evenly distributed over the crops.
Wu Qiubang, the Party chief of the rural cooperative at the village, said most of the village's young laborers have migrated to the cities for work, leaving the elderly, women and children to work around 150 hectares of rice paddies.
The cooperative groups some 70 farmers, half of whom are aged over 68, and the other half are women whose husbands are migrant workers.
Xin is considered a strong laborer at the village, home to 320 people. She works her family own field by herself while taking care of her children and elderly family members.
Liu Liqian, 30, the youngest member in the drone pilot team, said her father-in-law has taken on working the land owned by some 30 households. The drone has greatly eased his workload.
Last year, China designated six provincial-level regions, namely Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangxi, Hunan and Guangdong provinces as well as Chongqing Municipality, to start pilot projects to encourage drone use in agriculture.
Under the pilot projects, the purchase and use of drones is subsidized in a number of ways, Wu said. It not only saves a lot of manual work but also contributes to revolutionizing traditional agriculture.
The cooperative receives 51,000 yuan (about 8,100 U.S. dollars) in subsidies for purchasing a drone, which cost 65,800 yuan each. The county government has an additional budget of 10 million yuan per year to provide incentives for drone-assisted farming.
The cooperative now has a fleet of 13 drones. There are about 30 village-run drone pilots teams in Yujiang County.
In addition to using the drones in their own fields, Xin and her teammates earn additional income from the cooperative for providing drone services for other farmers. The service is in demand as it is much cheaper than hiring manual laborers.
Wu said the drones are produced by a company in east China's Jiangsu Province and are equipped with an auto-positioning system, which allows the drone pilots to design routes for the most efficient flight plan for each paddy field.
Jiangxi currently has 1,654 drones for agricultural use, which cover an area of 990,100 hectares of fields.