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Growing crops 365 days a year

TAGS: Crops
Iowa farmer Loran Steinlage has worked with Rantizo to fly cover crop seed into standing corn and soybeans at a faster rate using drone swarms.

When Loran Steinlage plants corn and soybeans in the spring he has an average of 140 days before the weather begins to make it difficult to plant anything that will fill the gap between harvest and planting next spring.

Steinlage farms in West Union, a small town in the northeast corner of Iowa not far from the Wisconsin border. To say it gets cold there early would be an understatement. (It has already snowed twice in Iowa this fall.)

“The thing we reached out to Rantizo for when we first got connected was that we were trying to figure out how to fill the niche market for cover crops, getting them in the window and allowing us to fill the void created by Mother Nature,” said Steinlage, who was interviewed for one of a series of farmer videos for the AgLaunch Virtual Field Day.

“She’s changed the rules on us a little. In far northeast Iowa we do not have the after-harvest option most people have. Generally, we will be froze up three to four weeks after harvest so our best option is to figure out how to interseed or do relay companion cropping for our cover crops. They allow us that flexibility.”

Speaking at the Practical Farmers of Iowa annual meeting last January, Steinlage said he doesn’t like the term “cover crops. I prefer interseeding or other terminology that basically means we’re growing something on our farm 365 days of the year.”

Earlier this summer, Rantizo received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly or “swarm” three unmanned aerial vehicles or drones operated by one pilot and one observer in the 48 contiguous United States.

“With this waiver, Rantizo is able to fly and apply agricultural materials up to the field border and will not be limited to a specific geographic area,” said Rantizo co-founder and CEO Michael Ott. “This will also increase our drone application productivity to 40 acres per hour, nearly tripling the current rate of 14 acres per hour.”

In Steinlage’s case, that means flying cover crop seed into standing corn or soybeans with drones without having to wait for harvest and possibly missing the planting window.

“Seeding into standing crops is a very efficient way to do it,” he said. “It’s very noninvasive, and we can get the job done very timely. Both times we’ve had them out here they’ve been working in between rain showers.”

Steinlage says the UAVs “can get into tight spots that an airplane or a helicopter can’t get into. This year we just finished setting up test plots that I know an airplane, a helicopter or even a ground rig wouldn’t have accommodated.”

AgLaunch, a Memphis, Tenn.-based business accelerator program, has been working with farmers like Steinlage and companies such as Rantizo, which is based in Iowa City, Iowa, to help bring more innovative products and services to agricultural markets.

“Members of the AgLaunch Farmer Networks test these products and ground-truth them to get some real actual farmer data,” said Steinlage.

For more information on the AgLaunch Farmer Network and producers participating in its first-ever virtual field day earlier in October, visit aglaunchfielday.com. For more information about Rantizo, visit rantizo.com/faq/.

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