The use of drones for spraying cleared a major regulatory milestone last summer, as Transport Canada issued its first approval for commercial spraying with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), according to the Elie, Manitoba-based company that received the permission.
To fly any aircraft — manned or unmanned — for commercial purposes in Canada, you must have a special flight operations certificate or SFOC.
After an extended eight month approval process, ROGA Drone received an SFOC for aerial application of a pesticide with a drone last July.
“We found dealing with Transport Canada, that there were two issues: number one was safety, and number two was safety,” says ROGA Drone owner Don Campbell.
Since the rules were written for manned aircraft, the application for spraying with a drone required some extra discussion with Transport Canada officials. For example, spray planes are required to have a dump valve to jettison a load if they get into trouble, explains Campbell.
“Because we’re using such small payloads and flying three feet over the ground, that wasn’t really wasn’t applicable to drones,” he says.
Initially, Campbell says he saw potential for spot spraying of weed patches using drone NDVI maps, but after acquiring a spraying drone from Ukrainian drone startup Kray Technologies, he’s also looking at larger crop areas.
“They have some patented technologies that they can use for ultra low volume and we feel we can get into some bigger areas rather than just spot spraying with that,” he says.
The ultra-low water volumes used by spray drones are currently off-label, but Campbell says he’s working with several chemical companies to address this. He’s also applied to work with PAMI (Prairie Agricultural Machinery Institute) to research the effectiveness of fungicides applied by his drone with low water volumes this summer.
“We feel this year is going to be a lot of education and demos to get the product out there and see how we did,” he says.
The technology already exists for swarms of drones working together, but Campbell expects it will take some time before regulations allow a single operator to oversee multiple spray drones. And he doesn’t see drones fully replacing current spraying equipment.
“Planes and high clearance rigs have their place. I don’t think this will be a replacement, but probably an add-on tool,” he says.
Campbell chatted with RealAgriculture at Ag Days in Brandon this week — listen to our conversation here:
Related posts on spraying with drones:
- Dutch spraying drone applies up to 250 litres per flight
- Drone giant DJI bringing a spraying drone to North America
- Spraying with UAVs no longer a futuristic dream
- The race to bring robots to the field is on
Editor’s note: This article was updated on January 23 to clarify the fact Transport Canada cannot confirm or disclose that ROGA was the first to be granted a certificate for spraying.