The phone rings, and you pick it up. The caller says, “Do you mind if I kill some of your weeds?” That’s a phone call one Alabama farmer received from Auburn University’s Extension weed specialist Steve Li. What prompted Li’s call was a field of marestail he had seen while driving from one meeting to another. The field looked like a premium opportunity to practice herbicide application with a spray drone.
That was the story Li told at the recent precision ag workshop hosted by AU and the Alabama Extension Service. According to Li, spray drones are a hot ticket these days. Already widely used in the Midwest, spray drones have tremendous potential in the Southeast as well.
Spray drones have many benefits over both ground rigs and the use of airplanes. They are versatile and can be used for everything from pesticides to plant growth regulators, liquid fertilizers and even dry granular pesticides and fertilizers or broadcasting cover crop seeds.
Drones are easy to learn to operate and require no aviation or pilot experience. Unless you plan to make drone flying a business, it does not require a certification. One of the biggest benefits is spraying when it is too wet for a ground rig to get into the field. Collision avoidance radar allows it to avoid obstacles. It can be completely autonomous, and you can map and spray a field with the same drone.
Li says tank sizes are increasing as well. “A few years ago, the largest tank was almost 8 gallons, and now it is 10.6 gallons, or 40 liters. In the next three to five years, 20 to 50 gallon-size spray drones will be available.” Overall, spray drones are getting bigger, better, more efficient, less expensive and more cost effective.
If you want to learn more about spray drones, Dr. Li will be speaking at the Integrative Precision Agriculture International Conference, May 18-19 at the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education. Li, along with UGA’s Simer Virk, Perrotis College of Greece professor Athanasios (Sakis) Gertsis and Application Insight LLC principal Mark Ledebuhr will conduct a spray drone workshop at UGA’s J.P. Campbell Research and Education Center with presentations and demonstrations. The workshop will be on day two, and it is possible to only register for the workshop. Read more about this learning opportunity on page 7.
Maybe it doesn’t have quite the same ring as the song made popular in the classic film “Mary Poppins,” but I expect we’ll start to see more drones flying soon.