Spraying a pesticide with a drone is still not allowed in Canada

The idea of spraying with drones has gained interest as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have become more common in farming over the past few years.

In concept, UAV sprayers could identify and target weeds, and then apply herbicide autonomously in specific areas of a field.

The technology for spraying with a drone is available and in use in other countries, such as Japan and parts of Europe. Drones designed for spraying are showing up at farm shows and field days. Transport Canada has even issued a flight operations certificate to at least one company that plans to spray with drones in Manitoba.

Despite the interest and investment from early adopters, spraying a pesticide with a drone in Canada is still not allowed under the Pest Control Products Act, unless you have a research authorization, according to Health Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA.)

That’s because drone application is not on the label for any pesticides currently on the market, says the federal pesticide regulator.

The PMRA considers spraying by drone to be a new method of aerial application. Existing pesticide labels that say a product is approved for aerial application only pertain to fixed-wing or rotary manned aircraft.

One of the obvious differences is drones have much smaller tanks than ground sprayers or airplanes, requiring more fills to cover the same number of acres. While the risk of operator exposure to a pesticide while spraying should be reduced with drones, the more-frequent refilling could hypothetically be a risk area the PMRA would look at.

To date, the agency says no company has applied to have application via an unmanned drone added to a product label.

“Since the PMRA has not received any data or applications to support the use of drones for pesticide application as of June 29, 2018, it has not yet assessed the hazards or risks associated with the use of drones to apply specific pesticides.”

To get drone application added to a product label, the PMRA says a pesticide manufacturer would have to submit an application, along with data describing the hazards and risks. The agency says the timeline for getting a decision would depend on the type and quality of the data that is submitted.

“Until this information is received, assessed and drones are included on a pesticide label, the use of drones to apply pesticides is not permitted,” says the PMRA.

Anybody wanting to experiment with spraying by drone on a small number of acres can also work with a pesticide manufacturer to apply for a research authorization.

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Kelvin Heppner

Kelvin Heppner is a field editor and radio host for RealAgriculture and RealAg Radio. He's been reporting on agriculture on the prairies and across Canada since 2008(ish). He farms with his family near Altona, Manitoba, and is on Twitter at @realag_kelvin. @realag_kelvin

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