Zhao has been a professional drone pilot since 2015, when he gave up his life as a migrant laborer and returned to his hometown to work in the country’s nascent drone industry. Although he is only 23 years old, Zhao is already a veteran of sorts in this emerging field.
When I asked him what exactly had attracted him to the job, he talked about how drones have the potential to make agriculture “cool” again. “Even though I am from a rural village, I never wanted to be a farmer,” he said. “It was only my interest in drones that persuaded me to take this job. Now I can spray an entire field without so much as breaking a sweat.”
The prospects of smart agriculture and its guaranteed higher wages — according to news reports, experienced drone operators can make more than 10,000 yuan ($1,530) a month — are already attracting young capital and talent back to the countryside. After finishing his army service, 25-year-old Shi Yufeng moved back to his native Weinan to take over his father’s farm supply company. Shi’s passion for flying helped him cultivate a partnership with XAG, and he has since assembled a drone-centered crop maintenance team. Using data provided by XAG, Shi claims to be able to provide farms with an array of accurate information on everything from “ploughing, sowing, maintaining, harvesting, and storage” — information that could help boost productivity. His farm currently has over 40 employees — the vast majority of whom are people in their 20s and 30s who were lured back home to the countryside by tales of the high wages offered to drone operators.