An unusual UAV flying across a grassy area spraying water attracts attention at field days. That’s how Jim Love introduces many farmers to a new concept — spraying pesticides with unmanned aerial vehicles.
“Right now, the model I fly is a great touch-up tool for spraying things like grass waterways, patches of waterhemp or thistles, or for spraying odd-shaped areas,” Love says. He’s a longtime technology coordinator for Beck’s and farms near Tipton, Ind.
“It’s also a teaching tool, and a great machine to learn how to fly a drone dedicated for spraying,” he adds. “You wouldn’t want to use this model to spray whole fields routinely. That would not be cost-effective.”
So, why is Love spending time honing his skills at spraying with a drone, and introducing the concept to other farmers? He sees spraying with UAVs as a legitimate, cost-effective option for the future.
Love envisions at least two different scenarios: First, you might have multiple drones for spraying. “Say you have a swarm of six drones that can fly and apply herbicide at the same time,” he explains. “First, you would send out a scout drone to get a visual image of the field and determine where there are larger patches of weeds. Then you would launch the swarm to make the actual application.”
The other scenario involves a much more powerful UAV capable of carrying large amounts of spray. Some much larger models are already under development around the world, especially in Europe, he notes. “Once you could carry the volume you might have in a small commercial sprayer today, you could spray larger acreages effectively,” Love says.
The Agrodrone Love uses is produced by Hylio, Richmond, Texas. “It’s a startup company operated by four bright young people,” he says. “They source the parts from around the world, but assemble the machines in the U.S. Today, most of their sales are in Central America.”
Love began exploring spraying with a drone two years ago. “You must apply for a Part 333 exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration to spray,” he says. “It took 10 months to receive the exemption for Beck’s. Hopefully, that period will get shorter soon.”
Rantizo is another U.S. company making UAVs for spraying. It has received blanket applications allowing customers to spray with drones in 10 states. However, Indiana isn’t yet on the approved list.
“I believe spraying with drones will be practical in the future, and I wanted to learn how to do it with a $20,000 drone instead of a huge one someday that might cost up to $500,000,” Love says. “There is definitely a learning curve. If you crash a $20,000 UAV, you don’t like it, but crashing a $500,000 drone is something else altogether.”
The Hylio drone comes with four sets of batteries and two chargers. Love sprayed fungicide on his own 30-acre cornfield in 2019. “Once you figure it out, you’re refilling and changing batteries about every 8 minutes, and you can get a flow going,” he says.
The drone holds 4.5 gallons, has six nozzle bodies, and the spray width is 15 to 20 feet. Nozzle bodies are suited for conventional spray tips.
“What I really like is [Hylio’s] service and support,” Love says. “You can talk to people in English. That makes a big difference.”
Love programs the drone for a job, and it flies the mission automatically. Yes, it has crashed. The company even discusses what happens if the drone crashes on its website under Frequently Asked Questions.
“They’re built so that parts can be replaced easily,” Love says. “They got me the parts, and I was soon back to spraying.”
The Agrodrone can carry a camera, but you would use a separate UAV for aerial images, Love says. “We’re spraying a couple meters above the crop,” he explains. “You need to be much higher to get an aerial image.”
Some farmers are inquiring about purchasing a drone for spraying. They’re available through the company. Visit hyl.io.
“To be successful, you need to get out of the mindset that you’re going to spray 250 acres at once,” Love says. “Instead, ask yourself what you could do with this machine. Let your imagination guide you.
“They’re not for everybody. You must want a drone, whether it’s for spraying or a smaller drone for aerial scouting, to make it work. You will never see someone hand them out at the back of a meeting. You need to be dedicated and committed to this technology.”