Corn School: Will drone sprayers fit your farm?

Is the clock ticking on the future of your ground sprayer? Could it eventually be replaced by a swarm of UAV sprayers that could better target weeds and deliver herbicide to exact locations in the field?

These are questions we explore with AGRIS Co-operative agronomist Dale Cowan on this episode of RealAgriculture’s Corn School. Cowan recently watched ChiDa Polaris demonstrate its UAV spraying technology in a field test organized by Cairo, Ontario, based Haggerty Creek Ltd. The PMRA has not approved application by drone on any pesticide label. To apply pesticide with a drone, a research permit is required.

The drone in this demonstration sprayed glyphosate at a 2.5 litre/ac rate on a field due to be planted to soybeans. The UAV’s 10-litre tank allowed it to cover four acres per load while spraying a five-metre swath. Eight fill-ups were required to cover the 30-acre field.

What can you achieve with a drone sprayer?

These things are a lot of fun and really cool, but the question is: can you make money with cool? “I think they’re never going to replace a big sprayer. They just don’t have the capacity or the swath width to do that sort of thing, but I think maybe down the road, we’ll find a fit for them in a smaller capacity, maybe something more site specific and fixing small areas in the field that we otherwise would ignore,” says Cowan.

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How does wind impact the done sprayer?

“I didn’t see any advantage there on wind speed with the drone,” says Cowan. “It’s still coming out of a nozzle, so if it’s too windy for a ground rig, it’s too windy for a drone.”

Is a tank mix feasible in a drone sprayer?

Concentrated spray solutions could prove challenging for drone sprayers,” says Cowan. “If you’re going to attack weed resistance management, we always talk about the multiple modes of action, so if you’re going to put three chemicals in a tank, you could literally be spraying two litres of pure chemical to a half litre of water.” Cowan questions whether it’s realistic to attempt drone tank mixes. He notes that these chemicals are formulated for a much higher carrier volume than a litre to the acre.

Could drones replace ground sprayers?

Cowan feels that’s unlikely. “There’s no comparison between a 120-foot boom with a thousand-gallon tank and a drone with two nozzles that covers 15 feet with a 10-litre tank.” When it comes to spraying, Cowan says all that a ground machine and a drone are doing is hauling nozzles around a field. It’s the nozzles and their ability to put spray volume on the target that’s important. He believes drones could be best used for spot spraying – small areas not accessible to a ground rig that would be very specific. A drone would have the dexterity to access these areas and do the work efficiently and profitably.

How could drones have the greatest impact on weed control?

Cowan feels the capability of UAVs to fly and scan fields using high-powered scanning and sensor technology could be their most valuable asset. The UAVs also have logarithms on board that interpret the image while it’s flying. “Essentially, when the drone lands, not only is the scan done, the scouting report is done, too,” says Cowan. If it works as promised, he feels that’s a real game-changer.

Click here for more Corn School episodes.

Related article: Transport Canada grants certificate for spraying with a drone

 

Bernard Tobin

Bernard Tobin is Real Agriculture's Ontario Field Editor. AgBern was raised on a dairy farm near St. John's, Newfoundland. For the past two decades, he has specialized in agricultural communications. A Ryerson University journalism grad, he kicked off his career with a seven-year stint as Managing Editor and Field Editor for Farm and Country magazine. He has received six Canadian Farm Writers' Federation awards for journalism excellence. He's also worked for two of Canada's leading agricultural communications firms, providing public relations, branding and strategic marketing. Bern also works for Guelph-based Synthesis Agri-Food Network and talks the Real Dirt on Farming.

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